Wendy Darling's Reviews > A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
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In the dark of night, when the house is still, what fears creep into your heart? For Conor O'Malley, his nightmares take the shape of a very old and very dangerous monster who visits him every night at seven minutes past midnight. He's half-convinced that these must be dreams of his fevered mind. But how can they be, when the visits are so vivid and when he finds physical evidence of the monster's existence the next day?

Conor's nightmares begin shortly after his mother starts her treatments for cancer. He's also dealing with a father who lives far away and is engrossed with his new family, a brisk and determined grandma who doesn't understand him, and schoolmates who don't seem to see him anymore. As readers learn more and more about Conor's story and the terrible monster who comes to visit, it is impossible not to feel worry and fear and sadness for this boy, whose must shoulder problems that have toppled many adults before him. But even in his anger and pain, Conor's defiant spirit shows flashes of dry humor and painful hopefulness that are difficult to witness, but make him impossibly endearing.

A Monster Calls is a middle grade children's book, but it's a children's book in the way that Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein wrote children's books--that is, the surface stories are certainly well-written and compelling, but underneath that are the themes of confusion and loneliness and sadness that elevate them to timeless works of literature. And while A Monster Calls chooses to confront its demons more literally than some other books may, it does so with such fierce intelligence and ease that it never feels didactic or forced.

...the fire in Conor's chest suddenly blazed, suddenly burned like it would eat him alive. It was the truth, he knew it was. A moan started in his throat, a moan that rose into a cry and then a loud wordless yell and he opened his mouth and the fire came blazing out to consume everything, bursting over the blackness, over the yew tree, too, setting it ablaze along with the rest of the world...

This an incredible book about the enormous burdens of responsibility and grief and loss. I read most of it with anxiety in my heart and as the story intensified, the ache in my throat got worse and worse. By the time I reached the end, hot tears were dripping onto the last two pages, and continued to fall as I immediately read those pages again, and as I read them yet again.

But more than anything else, I felt a great deal of love as I was reading this. Love for Conor, love for his mum, love for his grandma, and love for everyone who has ever experienced a profound loss. This is such a beautiful book, such an important book, and one that I think so many children and so many adults will appreciate. I cannot imagine that there will be another children's book written this year that will provide such a moving and emotionally truthful experience, or one that will so easily become an instant classic. In just 215 pages, A Monster Calls shatters your heart and then wraps it up tightly again so that you can go and be present in the world as an infinitely wiser, more loving human being.

About the Illustrations:

The words themselves are powerful and full of terrible beauty and latent emotion. But if you're able, do try to get your hands on a copy of the hardcover, which is illustrated with wildly expressive artistry that complement the story perfectly and captures exactly the right feel for the book. I've included some of the illustrations from the book here in this review, but if you'd like to see more images, please visit Jim Kay's website to learn more about the process the artist used.

About the Story:

The story behind this book makes it even more poignant. Siobhan Dowd, the award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, conceived this idea and the characters and the beginning--but died of breast cancer at the age of 47 before she could write the novel. Patrick Ness was asked to write the book based on her idea, and he succeeded in achieving a work of fiction that both transcends its genre and painfully wrenches your heart.

This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.

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Quotes Wendy Darling Liked

Patrick Ness
“You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness
Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness
“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness
“I wish I had a hundred years, she said, very quietly. A hundred years I could give to you.”
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness
“Stories don't always have happy endings."

This stopped him. Because they didn't, did they? That's one thing the monster had definitely taught him. Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn't expect.”
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Reading Progress

June 3, 2011 – Shelved
September 23, 2011 – Started Reading
September 24, 2011 –
page 168
74.34% ""I wish I had a hundred years," she said, very quietly. "A hundred years I could give to you." This book! :("
September 24, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 135 (135 new)

Catie I'm stalking this one too :D

I just sat here spacing out and thinking about everything that happens in this book and it almost made me cry all over again.

Wendy Darling Awww. I have a fresh box of tissues waiting on my nightstand.

Heidi no way I am starting this book today too.

Wendy Darling Oh yay! I look forward to your status updates, Heidi. :)

message 5: by Heidi (last edited Sep 23, 2011 11:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heidi ok we can compare notes!

Kwesi 章英狮 Planning to read this book this coming October with friends. Hehe. Can;t wait to read your review.

Wendy Darling Are you reading the ebook or the DTB, Heidi?

Kwesi, if you can get your hands on a copy of the hardcover for your readalong, it's really worth investing in even if you got the egalley. The illustrations are absolutely spectacular!

Kwesi 章英狮 Weh? I tried to look for the copy here in the Phil. but it seems that only few bookstores sell the book. Maybe I'll try my luck a little harder next hoarding day.

Wendy Darling Oh, good luck Kwesi--it's worth trying to find if you can get your hands on one. But the language itself is still gorgeous all on its own, too!

Kwesi 章英狮 I wish so, I did not like the The Knife of Never Letting Go because of the format and language. But they said this book differ from the series itself.

Heidi I have the e book Wendy just got started 20% in...so haunting and fascinating so far.

Wendy Darling I haven't read the Chaos Walking series yet either...after seeing the language in this though, it makes me want to give them a try.

I'm only a chapter in so far, Heidi, but I think this is going to be a fast read anyway.

message 13: by Kwesi 章英狮 (last edited Sep 23, 2011 06:38PM) (new) - added it

Kwesi 章英狮 Give it a try Wendy and can't wait to read your comments. Haha. I got lots of enemies because of reading that book.

Heidi wow just finished a lot to process!

Wendy Darling I'm almost done--I had to put it aside for a few minutes to compose myself. :(

message 16: by Shy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shy Definitely one of the best book I ever read. I'm super glad that you like it as well =)

message 17: by Dija (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dija I'll give you a virtual hug, Wendy. :)

Wendy Darling I gratefully accept, Dija. I'm a mess.

It's a fantastic book, Shy. And it works on so many different levels. I have to process it some more, I think, before I have any hope of discussing it coherently.

message 19: by Jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jo Oh Wendy, it's absolutely ridiculously beautiful isn't it?

Sending cuddles across the pond (Where I still don't know what to do with myself and my eyes are still red).

I have no idea where to start with this review.

message 20: by Dija (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dija @Wendy: Is it weird that I plan on reading this book simply from your reaction to it, without even reading the synopsis? :D

Reynje More virtual hugs! Can't wait to read your review :)

Wendy Darling I really, really appreciate all the virtual love. (Of course my GoodReads friends are awake in other parts of the world and here for me while my husband is uselessly sleeping.)

I knew exactly what the book was about and spent the entire time expecting to be moved--but it's so simple and yet so powerful that it still...hits you in the heart, as K. likes to say.

That's not weird at all, Dija--I do the same thing with friends I trust all the time. Hopefully this will move you as much as it did me.

message 23: by Jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jo I finished this at about the same time (well, in the morning over here) and I was trying to cry into my pillow so not to wake anyone up. Then I opened my curtains and watched the tree in my garden until my mind settled down. (It's a Silver Birch, though, not a Yew :( )

message 24: by Jasprit (new) - added it

Jasprit Yay I'm so gald you enjoyed this one Wendy, I got a copy yesterday at clearance price! Can't wait to read it now :) Look forward to your review!

Wendy Darling I'm afraid the last two pages of the book had my tears dripping on it...and then I re-read them again, and then again for the third time, with still more tears.

How lovely to have a tree to look at immediately afterwards, though, Jo.

message 26: by Ali (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ali Have you read his Chaos Walking series? It's fantastic

Kwesi 章英狮 Wow, you are done and I can't wait!

message 28: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah Gah! You're reading everything on my to-read list! Can't wait for the review.

message 29: by Heidi (last edited Sep 24, 2011 08:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heidi Yeah I am still not even sure how to put it into a review. I think knowing the whole way what is going to happen helps you understand Conor's emotions. I was relieved to know that other people feel the same way that I do when you are facing such heavy loss. It's a wow book!

Megan Like Sarah I've been wanting to read this one, too. Can't wait to read the review :)

message 31: by Tina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tina Virtual hug to you. Some friends are doing a read-along of this soon and they've put me in charge of the discussion. I am so going to cry again.

Wendy Darling Oh please please read this book if you haven't already. It's truly exceptional in story, in writing, and in content.

I haven't read Chaos Walking yet, Alicia, but I definitely intend to give them a try after this. I'm glad you're a fan of this, too, Heidi...and jeez, Tina, I can only imagine your readalong group sobbing and clutching each other for comfort.

steph Ahhhh, I'm getting this soon and I've read so many reviews already about it making people cry. I'm glad it was a great read for you though. Looking forward to your review!

Wendy Darling Stephanie--I hope you are able to read it soon. I'd clear out a few hours to just immerse yourself in it if possible! I expected it to be good, but not this good.

Cindy Ahh, a copy of this is supposed to land in my mailbox soon. I'm ecstatic that you like it. Must. Get. Book. Now.

Steph Sounds like I was correct in putting this on my wish-list! :)

Wendy Darling Cinnamon: Yes. You. Must. :) And yes, get yourself a copy, Stephanie! I went out and got a protective book cover for it today.

Bonnie Great review Wendy, and thanks for the mention of the pictures. I was waiting for the ebook to come out but I'll definitely try to get my hands on the real book. Thanks! :)

Kwesi 章英狮 Love your review and the illustrations are great!

Chachic I read a review copy of this from NetGalley and I still need to buy a finished edition because I loved it.

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Okay then, ordering the hardcover now! You are very coonvincing, my fairy godmother. I don't know how anyone could resist reading the book after this review. :)

Reynje Beautifully said, Wendy. Love this review.

Wendy Darling Thanks everyone, I appreciate the kind words. I'm normally a huge fan of ebooks, but in this case I feel the illustrations are an integral part of experiencing the story. They're fantastic, aren't they? I have been hugging my book ever since I read it.

I kept thinking of you as I was reading this, Maja--you will absolutely love it. I think most of my friends will.

message 44: by Limonessa (new) - added it

Limonessa The illustrations are stunning. Great review Wendy.

Reynje I may have just gone out and bought a (signed - yay!) copy of this. Maybe. I neither confirm nor deny anything, since I was *cough* technically on a book buying ban :)

Wendy Darling Thanks Lisa! I love those drawings so much, I hope we see more artwork like this in children's books.

And WHAT. A signed copy! Good for you, Reynje. :) (view spoiler) I can't wait to hear what you think of it!

Choco Reynje wrote: "I may have just gone out and bought a (signed - yay!) copy of this."

Sorry for hijacking the comment section, Wendy, but a SIGNED COPY!!! Envious isn't strong enough a word to describe me!! (and I already own two copies of this book :D)

Reynje choco wrote: "Reynje wrote: "I may have just gone out and bought a (signed - yay!) copy of this."

Sorry for hijacking the comment section, Wendy, but a SIGNED COPY!!! Envious isn't strong enough a word to descr..."

Choco, I have been kind of lucky, stumbling upon signed books entirely by accident :) My local independent bookstore has turned out to be a bit of a goldmine!

Wendy Darling Always taunting me, Reynje, always taunting. Isn't it enough that you have all those Aussie YA titles gleaming on your Melbourne bookshelves without having an abundance of autographed copies of gorgeous books available, too? *cries*

Reynje haha.. I'm sorry Wendy :) I'm always surprised when a book is released earlier here (A Monster Calls, Saving June), and we do have some fabulous local books. If it's any consolation though, we do miss out on some great internationals. I don't even want to think about the amount I spend on imports O_o

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