A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
|A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A beautiful story of coming to terms with the loss of a parent from an idea by the late - and much missed - Siobhan Dowd and given wonderful life by Patrick Ness in words and Jim Kay in pictures. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: May 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
Conor wakes up from his nightmare at 12.07am. The yew tree from the churchyard has uprooted itself, transformed into a huge monster and is waiting at his window, full of threat. Conor, though, is unimpressed. Nothing could be as frightening as his nightmare. Nothing could be as frightening as his waking life, for that matter. So he snorts in contempt. But the monster shrugs off this reaction and tells Conor he must listen to three stories and then tell one of his own. And that fourth story must be The Truth.
And what is The Truth?
Conor's mother is terminally ill. His father lives in America. His grandmother is remote and he doesn't love her. And he's being bullied at school. You can see, really, why the monster doesn't tick Conor's scary boxes, can't you? But this isn't The Truth. Not the truth that the monster is after, anyway. And that truth is something that frightens Conor more than anything.
When the wonderful Siobhan Dowd died of breast cancer in 2007, she left a final idea for a book and Patrick Ness has spun it into a story about grief, loss and letting go and it is genuinely beautiful. Ness has preserved some of Dowd's use of magic realism and Celtic sensibility, but the story is entirely his own - branded all over with his fearless presentation of raw human emotion. I don't think anybody in children's literature quite manages these levels of distilled sweetness and pain. As you read, you feel as exposed as his characters are and it's very scary, yet also tremendously comforting.
The monster is a fabulous creation in the truest sense of the word: he is the Green Man, the elemental, the representation of both death and rebirth. To Conor, he offers the toughest of tough loves - forcing him to face The Truth is a cruel thing but it's also the beginning of healing. And then there's Conor: a little boy being asked to assimilate and cope with all the complicated emotions surrounding death of a loved one - loss and desolation but also anger and selfishness. How could his mother do it to him? Where will he live? Why can't she hurry up so it will all be over? How will he manage without her?
It's difficult to combine painful truths with hope for the future - but A Monster Calls does it. With style, grace and profundity.
I should also say the book itself is a joy - a slightly larger than average hardback with a striking black and silver jacket, the story beautifully and organically illustrated by Jim Kay with dark pictures full of threat and menace, conjuring both Conor's recurring nightmare and the stark horror in his waking life. It's a book to keep and treasure, inside and out.
My thanks to the good people at Walker for sending the book.
The Savage by David Almond and Dave McKean is another beautiful - and beautifully-illustrated book about grief and loss. David Almond also looks at bereavement in a quirkier way in My Dad's a Birdman. They could also look at Eggs by Jerry Spinelli.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.