A novel by: Patrick Ness
Inspired by an idea from: Siobhan Dowd
Illustrations by: Jim Kay
Book Review by: Alex Frank
Conor is a 13-year-old boy with two problems: a sick mother and a reoccurring nightmare. School has become difficult for him, and, on top of that, he feels completely isolated from everyone. However, isolation isn’t what he’s afraid of. The only thing he seems to fear is his nightmare and the monster that haunts it every night.
At 12:07 one warm night, Conor’s nightmare seems to be coming to life as a monster stands outside his window calling for him, but this monster is not the one Conner expects. This monster has come walking, and it has come walking for the truth.
I had heard of this book as a recommendation from one of my favorite book vlogs on Youtube, Peruse Project. Something about it caught my attention. The illustrations are dark and haunting. How often do we get to read books that have amazing illustrations? For me at least, not often. This is a book recommended for children 12 and up, and, to be completely honest, I think I would have been afraid of them if I tried to read it at 12. I also don’t think I would have been able to fully grasp the gravity of the book’s message or be able to emotionally connect with it the way that I can at 20.
A Monster Calls struck me like someone punched me in the stomach. It was deeply moving, and I am not afraid to admit that it left me reduced to a blubbering mess. In other words, don’t read this story on public transit or anywhere people can see you unless you don’t mind crying in front of complete strangers.
This is a simple story with simple characters but a huge message to share with its readers. And unfortunately, as much as I would like to, I can’t tell you what that message is. I don’t want to ruin anything for you if you choose to actually read this book. However, I will tell you that there is much to be said for soul searching. I found I did that with Conor as I experiences his journey right along with him. A journey of denial and potential self destruction, but also something else: truth.
While I cannot claim that I have ever experienced what Conor has gone through, nor can I pretend to, his emotions are very real to me. Patrick Ness gives Conor enough depth that we feel as he feels and see the world through Conor’s eyes. Conor is not always right in his actions, yet he seems justified for the things he does even when they are not always in the best taste. That is a sign of good writing.
When I chose to buy this book, I knew it would be sad. The vlogger I mentioned earlier said this book left her crying. This left me curious. I don’t usually cry at the end of books…or in the middle of books. A Monster Calls was something new to me. The cover is what really caught my attention because part of me expected this to be a horror story with all of the terrifying black and white imagery like the scary books I read as a child such as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. And if you have ever read one of those books, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve never heard of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, then I recommend looking up pictures and then imagine children reading that. I still can’t believe I did. But these pictures, while haunting, were also something else: beautiful. They brought the story together. They brought the story to life and made it whole. They added to the experience, and made the characters and the emotions feel more real. The images were bleak and dismal the way that our own fears in everyday life are. A Monster Calls speaks to a very real audience of very real people going through the same problems as Conor with a fantastical twist.
If you are not particularly swayed towards reading a book that you know is sad please allow me to tell you that it’s worth it. Sometimes we might be going through a rough patch in life and need a story that rings truth rather than fictional stories with a happy ending. Not all stories have to have happy endings or solve all of the world’s problems in a day. Sometimes readers need something sad to remind them that what they are going through on a daily basis could be worse or that there is someone out there who seems to understand all their problems. Even when that someone is a fictional character named Conor. Sometimes readers need an outlet to let them cry because, quite frankly, they haven’t had a good cry in a while. We need sad books as much as we need happy ones, and this sad book is worth reading.
Emotional connections are what make books feel like friends rather than inanimate objects. Life isn’t always happy and it’s okay to be reminded that rough times happen to us all. Some might say that books are an escape away from the everyday trouble and problems of life. But I think they are more than that. Books allow us to see our lives and ourselves in in new ways. Books don’t cover up the truth of the everyday; they help us find it.
This was a book that I needed right now. It is a sad tale about a sad boy in a not so perfect world. And I’m happier for having read it.
Overall Rating: 5
P.S. I know, dear reader, that you may be going, “That was the vaguest book review I have ever read. I learned nothing from that.” I’m sorry that I could not share more with you about the story, but every detail is important and if I start telling them to you then it will give away how the story ends for Conor, and I don’t want to do that. So if you would like to know more about the book, please read it. Thank you for the time you took to read my review. That means a lot to me.