Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Oh my god–I never imagined that a picture book could have so much power over my emotions. This simple story is one of the most thought-provoking ones I have read this year.

5/5 stars

cover a monster calls

Amazon description of A Monster Calls:

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

I loved basically everything about this book. It is very plainspoken book. It is not overly dramatic. It does not demand that you pay attention–but I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t once you read the first few pages. It starts as a quiet story and builds to a climactic, heart-wrenching ending.

The characters were simple but powerful. Conor is a deeply troubled boy in the beginning of the book, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Still, his character made sense and connected to me on a fundamentally personal level. His mother is the classic maternalΒ figure, though she has a distinctly haunting aftertaste (awkward wording…sorry). Conor’s grandmother’s character was portrayed beautifully–she felt real–and her grief, though subtle, was insanely powerful. The bullies’ characters should have come off stereotypical and overdone, but they didn’t. They added depth to the story and helped to expose the complexity of Conor’s character.

Then there is the story itself. The monster visits Conor every night at 12:07 and tells him a series of three stories. Each story is simple in its construction but presents a unique philosophical conflict. Combined, I felt like the three stories created a sort of dark YA Aesop’s fable. The ending of the novel drew all three together and created a clear, lasting message. I won’t be forgetting this book for quite a while.

The illustrations definitely added to the story. Jim Kay is an amazing illustrator. The pictures perfectly captured the tone of the story.

This book doesn’t fit into a category. Conor is thirteen, so by that standard the story isn’t really YA. Then the structure of the plot makes it almost feel like a grim fairy tale. However, as the illustrations show, this is not a cheery book. It is intensely sad and discusses complex issues of morality and death. I guess I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading in books with a YA tone and intensity but who is also okay with reading a book with a younger protagonist.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

  1. I read this book in March and fell in love with Patrick Ness’s work. The picture’s do not tell the story but only strengthen it, I think it’s perfect. I was in a pool of my own tears by the end of this book.

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              1. It is set on a different planet where there is only one town left and there only men are left and everyone can hear each other’s thoughts as Noise. Todd is the last boy in the town and is about to become a man (it’s a cultural tradition) when he discovers… something (spoilers). Plot ensues. It’s so good though there aren’t even words. The first book is The Knife of Never Letting Go.

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