AUTHOR: Patrick Ness
LENGTH: 224 pages
SUMMARY: 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.
REVIEW: I have never read any of Siobhan Dowd’s books so I didn’t really know what to expect from this novel. I have read Ness’s Chaos Walking series though so I was pleasantly expectant. After reading A Monster Calls I intend to head to the library and collect all of Dowd’s book. Ness has crafted a singularly haunting tale of tragedy and acceptance that is at once engrossing and poignant.
This book is an achingly transparent look at how terminal illness affects family. Conor and his mother are treading water through life as Conor battles adolescence and his mother battles a terribly debilitating disease. With his father an ocean away, Conor has had to become parent and nursemaid while trying to navigate school and his fear of losing his mother. His grandmother begins to insert herself into their lives making Conor feel distrusted and useless.
When the monster begins to visit Conor, he is unsure of the monster’s intentions and wants to do whatever he can to dismiss the monster quickly. He had been expecting the monster from his nightmares but this monster is natural and wild and demanding. The monster being an organic and ancient being is fitting given the context of the book. Ness has given the monster a persona that is a good balance between menacing and mentoring, urging Conor to tell his own story. In the way of so many nightmarish creatures, the monster provides a focus for Conor’s rage and fear while bringing him closer and closer to the kernel of truth behind the monster’s visits.
The monster wants the thing from Conor that is hardest for most people to give: truth. Truth about himself and his nightmare and his love for his mother. Only when Conor is willing to be painfully honest about his own story, can the story itself be resolved. The subsequent climax is expected, inevitable, and heart breaking.
The illustrations in the novel add a Gothic feel to the tale making Conor seem equal parts victim and hero. As the monster’s visits become more insistent and Conor’s reactions become more frantic, the illustrations become darker and more stark. The overall effect is one of stripping Conor down to his core to help him realize, as many do during adolescence, that sometimes our own worst enemy is our own emotion.
Ness has created an unforgettable tale of love and loss. It will resonate with anyone who has faced mortality head on and not been afraid to acknowledge their fear and helplessness in the face of pain. Ultimately it is a tale of hope and resilience sprung from fear. Prose for the soul.