Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd
205 pages
Genre: Children’s fiction
Published by Candlewick Press, 2011
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I don’t know if I have the emotional stamina to read the ending of this one again. But I will try to work up to that in the next few years.

Reviewed by Indiana
Spoiler free

I rarely cry. It doesn’t matter what movie I’m watching or what book I’m reading. I just don’t cry. I’ve watched The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Saving Private Ryan, and a slew of other movies that are usually defined as tearjerkers and come away dry-eyed.

It’s not a point of pride. It just doesn’t really happen for me.

Until I read A Monster Calls.

Even typing the title is making my eyes water.

But don’t go anywhere, it’s a wonderful book. It follows a tween named Conor, whose mother is struggling through cancer treatments. During the very first scene, he is pulled out of a nightmarish dream and thrown into a different one, a very real one. At exactly 12:07 a.m. he is visited by this enormous yew tree monster, who is insistent on telling Conor stories.

They are stories with unexpected endings, twisted middles, and seemingly benign beginnings.  

The monster visits Conor several nights in a row, at exactly 12:07 each night. Meanwhile, during the day, Conor goes to school where he is bullied. But his reaction to the bully is simply just to take it, day after day.

As his mother’s condition worsens, his grandmother, who he’s never gotten along with, decides to take over the day to day operations with his house and with his mom. After a particularly tough day at school and at the hospital (where his mother is just getting worse), he goes to his grandmother’s home after school and in a rage to get the monster to show up, he destroys his grandmother’s prized clock.

The monster then shows up and the two destroy her entire living room in a blind rage.

No one punishes him for it, which somehow makes everything worse. It points to how “not normal” everything is in his life and magnifies his rage. He acts out in school and still doesn’t get punished for it, but before he has time to get angrier, things with his mother get worse.

The monster, who starts to visit more frequently, comes to help Conor live out that initial nightmare that he had at the beginning of the book and help him both to let go of his mom and hold on to her.

The book ends with them all in the hospital, at exactly 12:07 and, if you’re like me, with tears.

It’s a powerful story that I’m amazed Patrick Ness was able to fit into a children’s – level book.

Read it and weep. Literally.  

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