Despite the fact that I don’t get paid to sit here and write reviews of books, I would never change it for the world. The reason is that I get to read genuinely wonderful books that change attitudes and stir emotions and when I have closed the cover I get to tell you, why you should read them.
I cried three times while I read this book, a novel of sadness, loneliness, grief and hope, and now I hope you’ll read it too.
A Monster Calls was an idea penned by the late Siobhan Dowd, who passed away too early at the age of 47 from breast cancer. Her idea was one that reflected the illness that sadly took her from the world and it is one that author Patrick Ness was given, to finish her work. It must be a daunting process, to finish somebody else’s work, especially someone as successful as Siobhan. But if there was a struggle there for Ness, he doesn’t show it in his writing.
A Monster Calls follows Conor as his Mum undergoes treatment for a ravishing form of cancer. We see him go to school, we see him take care of his Mum and we see him talk to a tree monster that visits him in the night, at 12:07. Conor is plagued by a nightmare that wakes him every night and on one of those occasions he looks outside his window as he hears his name called. Looking out over the field that backs his house, there lays a yew tree that becomes a monster that will tell him three stories.
The monster and Conor’s relationship is the important core to the book. As Conor lives his daily life watching his Mum struggle with sickness from cancer treatment, with his Dad absent with his “other family” in America, we read about a lonely boy who lives with the weight of the world upon him. Anyone who has lost a close member of their family can relate to Conor’s attitude.
The tree visits him several times and on each occasion, Conor’s life changes a little more. On one such occasion Conor is reduced to a boiling rage as he stomps a path of destruction that we the reader can relate to. With each burning moment of anger and with each teardrop, the reader is pulled along a route of sadness with this young boy.
Ness’ writing is impeccable as he weaves the dialogue between moments of emotion that truly allow the reader to become absorbed in Conor’s world and feel each pang of emotion that he does. It’s a powerful book and considering it is published with young adults in mind, one can only hope that the visceral context isn’t lost on younger minds. That isn’t to say that adults shouldn’t read it, as I’m sure we’d have something to learn from this young boy.
As someone who has watched a very close member of my family slip away, albeit not from cancer, I can relate to each feeling felt by Conor. Ness has nailed each emotion, both light and dark, with utter perfection.
I’m not ashamed to admit that Ness’ words brought me to tears as I watched Conor and his Mum interact. A Monster Calls is a book that once placed on your bookshelf will cause you to sit on the side of your bed or the arm of your chair and just think. It’s a book that not only allows you to read about this boy’s struggle but with impeccable writing, allows you to see through his eyes and realise how life can hurt. There are few books that truly convey these feelings so well and Ness should be applauded.
Of course, the novel is dedicated to Siobhan Dowd and I feel that Ness will have done her proud. A Monster Calls is a short book that can be finished in a day and one that everyone should experience. If you have older children then urge them to read this. It may sound like a bleak book, but it’s one that comes with a message and a lesson, one that hopefully they’ll remember later in life.