A Monster Calls is a poignant and powerful book, written by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay, and inspired by an idea from Siobhan Down.
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 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 wasn’t the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.
Please don’t throw me in a pit of lava and the tears of rabid fangirls and boys when I say this: before A Monster Calls, I hadn’t read anything by Patrick Ness. I know. I know. I’d been hearing so much hype about his books and I’ve actually had a copy of More Than This on my shelf for the past five months, but until I heard that this novel is being released as a movie later this year, I just hadn’t got around to reading his novels. But I definitely think that’s going to change now, because I completely fell in love with A Monster Calls. And for all of you who have either read this novel or are curious about reading it, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that you’ll fall in love with it too — in the way that rips your heart from your chest and tears it into shreds right in front of you before commanding you to hold out your hands and dropping the shards into your palms. But it’s the type of novel you’ll love even more just because of its power and ability to take command of your feelings and implore you to find the parts of yourself that you aren’t proud of and bring them into the light to acknowledge that they’re a piece of you and they deserve to be recognised.
A Monster Calls is a middle-grade children’s book, but it definitely doesn’t feel as though it’s limited to that age-group. Honestly, I feel that everyone could read this novel and appreciate it. There’s a quote that comes to mind when thinking about the target audience for this novel, and it goes something like this: If children’s books can only be exclusively read by children, than they aren’t worth much as pieces of writing. I couldn’t agree more. But I also believe the different age-groups who read A Monster Calls will all gain something different from it and be able to draw on their own experiences to understand what the ‘Monster’ actually is and how we all have monsters that reside within us. We all must have the courage to look our Monster in the eye and not run away from it in shame or fear; to simply understand its presence and recognise that it makes up a part of us and without it, we wouldn’t be whole.
Possibly the most poignant aspect of this novel was the Monster itself. But the thing is — I didn’t view the Monster as a monster in the end. What was most beautiful about this novel was the way the Monster grew into something more than the ‘antagonist’ of the story. While it was never really the ‘bad guy’, I did initially see it as the figure that shouldn’t be trusted and someone who I was very unsure about, and in that way, it served one of the main functions a story should have. As this is aimed at a middle-grade reader (and I spoke about my distaste for labelling books in that way just a moment ago), there definitely needed to be something that acted as the antagonist in the story, and the Monster filled that place at the start. However, what becomes more obvious to readers as the novel progresses is that the Monster isn’t actually a monster. It’s not some dark, evil spirit. It’s not something that has to be battled with and beaten. It’s the personification — or monstification, I guess — of one young boy’s fear for the unknown but also the guilt he harbours after enduring everything for so long. I think that all of us have to face our monsters. We have to look them in the eye and recognise that they are as much a part of us as we are of them. Like a shadow, they will always be with us. We might not see them sometimes, but they will always be by our side. And it’s our choice whether we turn out the light and make them disappear for a while or stand tall in the sunlight, hand-in-hand.
Our protagonist, Conor, is touching beyond words. His life recently has been one of pain and torment and I felt my heart break for him, time after time. We’re first introduced to a boy who’s suffering in so many different ways. His mother is very sick, his dad has moved overseas to start a new life with his new wife and baby, and at school he’s picked on by bullies and pitied by teachers. It felt like this sadness and hardship followed him wherever he went and he couldn’t escape from it. Which is how the Monster is called. The Monster always arrives at night, and I see this as a way of showing that we can’t ignore our troubles and they don’t just go away because we’re not awake to deal with them — we have to actively recognise the extent of our predicament and if we can’t do anything to change it, we have to learn how to cope and continue on in a way that we can live with. The stories that the Monster tells Conor are play an important role in the overall message of the novel, showing us that good and evil aren’t easily defined and things aren’t always as they seem.
I must say, the illustrations in this novel were absolutely spectacular. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve read a book with illustrations in it, but returning to this format which is so reminiscent of my childhood was another aspect that allowed me to fall in love with A Monster Calls in the way that I did. I feel that the drawings added something quite magical to this extraordinary piece of prose. Be prepared to devour this heart-wrenching and powerful book in one sitting.
Have you read A Monster Calls? Are you shocked that I hadn’t read this spectacular book until now? Are you looking forward to seeing the movie? Are you a fan of the teaser trailer? Do you like Patrick Ness’s other novels? I’d love to know!