Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a haunting and heartbreaking story based on an idea by children’s author Siobhan Dowd, who passed away from cancer before being able to write the story herself.

The novel’s protagonist is 13-year old Conor O’Malley.  Ever since his mother was diagnosed with cancer, Conor has been having the same nightmare over and over again.  Conor doesn’t want to tell anyone about the nightmare; he doesn’t even want to think about it. He blocks it out as he endures days of going to school amidst bullying and isolation and nights of hoping for a miracle that may never come.

All that is about to change as he looks out his bedroom window one night and sees a monster standing there.  This monster isn’t like other monsters.  It’s part scary giant, part ancient yew tree that stands in Conor’s front yard. And it only wants one thing: to tell Conor three true stories in exchange for Conor’s own truth–the one he dreams about night after night.

Though it may seem like just a simple monster story on the surface, A Monster Calls is much more than that.  The book is also a testament to the burdens of responsibility, loss, and grief.  Although a dark story, where the reader can feel and taste Conor’s pain and fear, the book is also about family, hope, and love.  It’s about the love between a son and his mother.  The hope that keeps both of them alive and won’t let them give up. Among all the darkness, the novel offers real beauty and light.

The startling, gripping black and white illustrations by Jim Kay are as integral to the story as the words on the pages.  They seem to leap out of the book.  A mixture of relief printing, black pen and ink, and various printed textures, the pictures grab your attention and add to the story’s dark and somber mood.

A Monster Calls is a darkly lovely book that will have you thinking about it long after you finish its pages.  Still not convinced?  Check out this cool book trailer:

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