Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Haunting. Powerful. Life-changing. The only words that can describe Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd. A dark and moving story of loss and life. One that should be in every classroom and school library.
There is nothing that can prepare you to face a life of loss. There is even less one can do to prepare a preteen. Connor’s father lives with his new family in the States, leaving Connor and his mother to carry on in England. He cares for his mother but something is wrong. She has been sick, but Connor doesn’t realize how sick she is. When she begins getting weaker, Connor realizes that he may be losing her as she loses her battle. It’s almost more than he can handle, alongside his problems with the bullies at the school and his overbearing grandmother.
At night, he lies awake staring into the darkness. Until 12:07am when the Monster appears, answering Connor’s call. Except that Connor doesn’t know what the Monster means. He hasn’t called him. But the Monster continues coming at seven minutes past midnight each night. Taking the form of a yew tree in the field outside Connor’s window, he presents to three true, yet strange stories to Connor one at a time. Then the Monster asks Connor to tell him a true story, one that Connor must swear not to tell anyone, or else the Monster will eat Connor alive.
And in the midst of this chaos that is Connor’s life, he wonders what this Monster could mean. Is he losing his mind? Or is the Monster some form of divine intervention, there to help him come to terms with the difficulties of growing up?
A Monster Calls is a gripping and epic tale. I found myself crying multiple times as I read, as I followed the emotional rollercoaster of Connor’s life. It’s a quick read, but one that you will want to reread immediately upon finishing. The sparse, lyrical prose is rife with metaphors and allegory. Ness tells a beautiful and raw story that will leave you wiping away tears and contemplating life.
The story is enhanced by Jim Kay’s haunting black-and-white illustrations. This is the rare MG/YA book that is heavily illustrated and the illustrations are magical. The splatters, lines, and shadows capture the haunting tone of the story and the ephemeral feeling of the story. The emotions jump across the page, illustrations and lyrical prose hand-in-hand.
The original idea for A Monster Calls was developed by the late Siobhan Dowd, the Carnegie Award winner. After her death, Patrick Ness stepped in and did an unbelievable job in turning Dowd’s characters, premise, and beginning a beautiful story that will move anyone who reads it to tears. Highly, highly recommended.