Author: Patrick Ness (from an idea by Siobhan Dowd), illus. by Jim Kay
Publication Date: 9/15/11
Blurb (GR): This is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss. The monster showed up just 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 nightmare 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, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.
Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final story idea of Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.
Last Fourth of July, I played a party game called Time’s Up with some friends. The gist of the game is that everyone has a partner and you start with a certain number of cards as a group—say 40. Each one has a different movie/television show/book title on it and you use the same cards for the entire game so if you have great recall, the game is much easier. In the first round, you try to get your partner to guess the title by describing the movie without using specific words. (like Taboo) The second round involves trying to get your partner to guess the movie by saying one word. The third round is charades. This game is hilariously fun because I get to watch people try to act out Bridge on the River Kwai and to see what the one word they’d pick is to sum something up. So many books are utterly forgettable. I read too much to remember all the details of everything over time. I reached 1,000 books read last week and so what if somewhere around 150 of those are children’s books, it is still a milestone. 1,000 books further down the line, I’ll still remember A Monster Calls. While it would be a completely useless one word sum-up for the party board game, the one word for this book is beautiful because it is just that, inside and out.
I think it is lovely that Patrick Ness took a story idea from an author we lost too early, Siobhan Dowd. I’d read reviews of A Monster Calls before going into it so I knew what I was getting into, but in case you don’t, this is about a boy dealing with losing his mother to cancer. I have not experienced the loss of a parent but this book did not feel emotionally manipulative to me, and from what I’ve taken away from other reviews, the feelings reflected by Conor ring true for at least a large portion of people who have gone through that nightmare themselves. No part of the book felt cliché to me either, which I frankly found surprising. There is an absolute skill to taking a heavier theme, writing a book for children or young adults, and making it not only accessible but I daresay appealing to adults. I’ve never read anything Ness has written beyond this but I definitely will be doing so. He isn’t condescending to children. He doesn’t tell saccharine fairy tales, and I loved that. I guessed what the monster was there for all along but that takes nothing away from the book and the way the yew tree was brought into the story, through references and illustrations by Jim Kay was perfect. On Kay’s website, he discusses the cover image and says,
“I have very fond childhood memories of being in the back seat of a car watching fields and farmland rush by. During the hour of twilight, the familiar objects began to lose their definition, became dark, anonymous forms. The countryside at night through the window of a car was both frightening and compelling; the everyday merged with the unknown, and this is how Patrick’s story felt to me.” (1)
You and me, both, Mr. Kay. The eerie artwork paired perfectly with Conor's story. The whole book felt like he was stuck in an in-between place, which I suppose he was. Those aren't places I like to spend a lot of time but every once in a while...
I won a signed copy of this from my friend Jo's blog, Wear the Old Coat. It was definitely a prized treasure of mine from the moment I unwrapped the parcel.