A Monster Calls Book Review
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.
The Good Bits.
Siobhan Dowd penned the idea for A Monster Calls during a time she was going through her own illness. After her death, Walker Books arranged for Patrick Ness to write the novel. He shares this with the reader before the story begins. And it’s a captivating concept. The story not only addresses what Conor, as a child of a woman with a terminal disease, is facing, but also the way in which the reactions of others can affect that experience. Add in an element of a fantasy element that hooks the reader and you get A Monster Calls.
What I love about Conor is that he;s never what I expect. He isn’t one thing. He isn’t the sad boy, or the angry boy, or the confused one, but a bit of each, constantly in flux. I didn’t feel like I was reading about a character, I felt like I was getting an inside look into the world of a real 13-year-old boy.
The way he interacts with the supporting characters is sincere and emotional. He can’t outright hate anyone because they aren’t all wrong. And he can’t love everyone unconditionally because they aren’t all right. He has real, complicated relationships with real, complicated characters.
Further, you learn everything you know about him through his actions. There’s little ‘telling’ involved. It’s refreshing to see an author trust their audience, especially a middle-grade audience, to pick up on those cues.
Each character in the book, like its message about people in general, has a grey area. Conor’s best friend hurts him when she tells their classmates his mom is sick, but she does it to try and help. His grandmother is harsh and unyielding but is dealing with her daughter’s illness and trying to prepare Conor for the worst-case-scenario.
The same can be said for Conor’s schoolmates. Everyone deals with ailing loved ones differently, but as bystanders there’s something to be said for asking what someone needs instead of assuming. The supporting characters aren’t exemplary models of how to help someone struggling, they’re real examples of people trying to help someone while having no idea HOW to help.
This is my only complaint about the book. While all the characters have their good and bad moments, Conor’s father consistently disappointed. There isn’t a single moment where his dad does something redeemable. It’s common for divorced dads to get the villainized treatment, and while there’s an effort to understand his character, in the end he still isn’t likeable. In the end, he’s kind of terrible. I wish he had that spark of good to make him more rounded.
I would have liked to see more of Conor’s mother in the book. Conor at times recounts memories of the two of them, but it would have been great to hear more about their relationship. But at this point in the book, their roles are reversed and Connor becomes the caregiver. In the spirit of staying current within the narrative, I can understand why this wasn’t explored in depth.
The Last Bite.
A Monster Calls reveals the complicated journey of a boy with a suffering loved one. Moreover, it explores the duality of people and coping in general. It feels like a tall order for an MG book, but it doesn’t read as dense. I can confidently see a child in the MG age range being able to read and comprehend the book.
You can participate in the discussion without having read the book!
In A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness via Siobhan Dowd’s idea uses fantasy elements to address the issues that a child with a sick parent faces. What makes this method more, less, or equally powerful in comparison to a contemporary novel of the same subject matter?
What’s a book that’s made you cry recently? Because I fully bawled for this one…
Let’s do lunch again next week!