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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: Book Review

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.” Thus begins A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness’s hauntingly beautiful story of loss and pain.  The genesis of the idea came from author Siobhan Dowd, but whose death led to the publishers turning to Patrick Ness to take the idea and make it his own. Dowd's story was about a character dying of cancer, and as it was breast cancer that took her at the early age of 47 this certainly adds a great deal of poignancy to the project. Ness’s decision to run with the project in his own immutable fashion, and not just try an mimic Dowd’s style, has given the world a truly beautiful tale that properly honors the memory of Siobhan Dowd.


 The book’s main character is a thirteen year old English boy named Conor O’Malley whose mother is suffering from a terminal illness, everyone including Conor avoids using the “C” word as if just mentioning it would give the disease power, and over the past few months he has been plagued by horrific nightmares. Then one night, after awakening from the horribly reoccurring nightmare, he hears a voice call his name. It’s not his imagination, it’s not the house settling, and it’s definitely not the wind…it’s a monster, but when the monster states, “I have come to get you, Connor O’Malley” the boy does not run, or is even really afraid of it.

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

 This monster may be as big as a house, and threatens to swallow him whole several times, but compared to the true terror that Conor faces, it is nothing to be afraid of. The relationship between the monster and Conor is of course the crux of the book, it has come to tell him three stories and when they have been told Conor will be required to tell him one, and it must be the TRUTH. What this “truth” the monster is speaking of may be clear to most readers, but certainly not to Conor. He is living a shadow life where most of his friends have vanished, making Conor feel invisible except to the one school bully whose delivery of blood and pain is almost welcome, and then add to all that the stilted sympathy from the teachers, his grandmother, who he has never got along with, wanting him to come life with her, and his dad, who left for America years ago with a new wife, returning to “Have a talk.” I can see that with all that going on a tree that turns into a giant monster isn’t all that bad.

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

 “I am the spine that mountains hang upon! I am the tears the rivers cry! I am everything untamed and untameable.”

A Monster Calls is a book about loss, and though it is a mournful story, and if you don’t cry while reading this book check your pulse as you’re probably dead, it is still a wonderful story that will speak to you on many levels and if it doesn’t leave you feeling exactly joyous it will have at least made your heart swell with love for this little fictional boy.
Though this book is classified as Young Adult, and will most likely be found Teen Annex of most libraries, it is very much a book for audiences of any age, especially if you have had a great loss of your own. I simply loved this book, and not only is the writings of Patrick Ness evocatively sad and wonderful, but they are joined with truly amazing illustrations by Jim Kay. The black ink drawings almost loom off the page, and at times they seem to encroach on you as the pages turn. Simply fantastic stuff here.


Not surprising is the fact that Hollywood came a calling and movie adaptation is coming out later this year, starring the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson as the voice of the monster, but before it hits theaters I recommend  you rush out to your nearest book store or library and pick up A Monster Calls, but while you’re out you may want to grab an extra box of tissues.

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