The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.
Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Down who died of breast cancer before she could write it into a story, A Monster Calls is a young adult novel brought to life by Patrick Ness. A book that is raw in emotion, it tells the story of Conor, a teenage boy whose mother is dying of cancer, whose father has left him for a new family in the US and who is bullied at school. Conor is terrified of losing his mother, but his true nightmare is something he’s hiding deep within himself. A monster calls at Conor’s home and tells him three stories that are true. Then Conor must tell his own truth or be eaten.
This is a modern day fairytale which captures the anger of a child facing his mother’s imminent death in such an authentic, gritty way that it’s painful to read. As an aspiring children’s author, I feel that touching just one child with my stories and allowing him or her to relate to a particular situation or emotion and draw comfort from them would be the greatest achievement there is. Patrick Ness has done this with A Monster Calls. The novel is a validation of grief and anger and the unfairness of death. The author is telling the reader: it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. Death isn’t fair. It’s a validation of the guilt you can feel when a loved one passes away, because the worse that could happen has happened and you don’t have to fear it anymore.
“You be as angry as you need to be,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not your grandma, not your dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard.”
This book reminds us of the complexities of human emotion.
The monster always visits at 12.07 and tells Conor three stories that could be interpreted as representations of Conor’s relationships with the main people in his life. Through these, Conor must look at himself and face his most darkest, secret truth.
“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”
Despite Conor’s pain and the darkness of the book’s themes, there’s still room for lighthearted humour and teenage sarcasm that makes you laugh.
“Who am I? the monster repeated, still roaring. I am the spine that the mountains hang upon! I am the tears that the rivers cry! I am the lungs that breathe the wind! I am the wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly! I am the stag, the mouse and the fly that are eaten! I am the snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O’Malley.
“You look like a tree,” Conor said.”
By the end, the story comes full circle and all the loose strands meet together in a satisfying and meaningful way. This novel deals with such important concepts; the acceptance of death and the anger that follows. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and if you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one, I would urge you to read it.
The monster called to heal Conor, but he’ll heal you, too.