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Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

a monster calls patrick ness Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The monster arrived at midnight.'

As they do.

So opens Patrick Nesss'A Monster Calls, a brilliant and moving exploration of grief and loss and of the different paths different people take in dealing with them. Twelve year old Conor has been watching his mother slowly succumb to terminal cancer, a disease that is famously not only a physical disease, but also a social one. As his mothers condition worsens, Conor has been facing an ongoing struggle in coming to terms with his others mortality, and the stilted, painful way in which other people treat those with the disease and their loved ones.'For Conors estranged father, cancer is an unmentionable, a barrier that sits between him and his son and that can only be dealt with in platitudes; while for the children at school its something that marks Conor out as different, resulting in his isolation from the others. Conors teachers attempt to mediate between him and the other children, but in doing so end up treating him differently as well, offering him special rules and attention not afforded to the other children. For Conor, these issues are more pressing and evident than his mothers inevitable deathan invisible, torturously slow deathand its with these that he tends to engage and react, acting out in the hope that someone will treat him as Conor, not as the boy whose mother is dying of cancer.

Conors life, thus, is already brimming with monsters and horrorits hard not to see the spectre of death as an omnipresent monsterso when a true monster begins to haunt his dreams in the night he is largely unperturbed. What could this monster possibly do to scare him given what he is already facing? But the monster takes a surprising approach, deciding instead to tell Conor three stories. Each story is brilliantly, tragically ambiguous in terms of its morals and ethics, and for black-and-white Conor, they are a revelation. The monsters presence allows Conor to engage with his thoughts about right and wrong and about the consequences of lashing out or meting out punishment or revenge. The monster is blunt and forthright, affording Conor no special privileges, but rather expecting something more rational and adult from him than what he has so far been exhibiting. As the monster continues to visit, Conors reactions to the monsters tales and teachings mimic the various stages of grieving, finally positioning him to face the true monster that has been haunting his dreams for so long.

Though the main theme of the story involves the death of Conors mother, theres more to this slim volume than a why we need to let go moral. Theres so much in here about the changes that loved ones need to undergo and the compromises that need to be made when faced with death, and as we watch Conor try to come to terms with living with his eccentric ungrandmotherly grandmother and realising that his father wont give up his new life for him, these really do hit home. Conor wants so desperately to be treated as though nothing has changed or is changing, as doing so is to acknowledge that is mother is really dying, and its heartbreaking to watch him slowly come to terms with the new life that he simply cant deny any longer.

Theres also the notion of stories as catharsis, which I think is a key element of this book. Everyone Conor knows is so reticent when it comes to discussing their emotions and of his mothers inevitable death, and its only with the monster (who indeed is likely a figment of Conors imagination) that anyone is willing to speak to him at length and to challenge him to share his own perspectives and views. Illness is a taboo subject, and its essential that people be able to speak openly about how theyre feeling.

This is one of those novels that encourages deep reflection in the reader, and I suspect that if youve personally been touched by death or serious illness, youll find A Monster Calls'very affecting indeed. Its'simply and elegantly written, and though the subject matter is obviously challenging, Ness injects just enough levity that its accessible. Humour is, after all, one of the many ways in which we deal with loss, and its used here to excellent effect without seeming cheap or trite. The story itself is thoughtful and deeply moving, but when combined with the eerie, oozing illustrations of Jim Kay, it becomes something else again. Kays mad, scratchy drawing seem to crawl over the pages, threatening and foreboding and beautifully complementing Nesss words, and the overall effect is superb.

Rating: star Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Nessstar Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Nessstar Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Nessstar Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Nesshalfstar Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

With thanks to Walker Books Australia for the review copy

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Other books by Patrick Ness:

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  1. I loved this book. Such a difficult topic but Ness managed it beautifully. I had a tissue box nearby while reading this. I need to try his other books, Ive heard good things about them.

  2. Stephanie /

    Its a beautiful book. Ive heard wonderful things about The Knife of Never Letting Go, as well.

  3. This is a fantastic review! It reminded me of all the things that I just loved about it! Patrick Ness is such a brilliant author.

  4. Stephanie /

    Thanks so much for your lovely words, Michael. Its a brilliantly moving book, and so beautifully done. And Im still amazed by how beautifully the illustrations work with the narrative.

  5. This sounds like a good book. Ill keep it in my during a future trip to the library.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting! I think youd enjoy this one, so do let me know what you think if you get around to borrowing it. :)

  6. I must get to it, so many people I respect have praised it

    Shelleyrae @ Bookd Out

  7. Stephanie /

    Oh, you must, Shelleyrae. Ping Walker Books for a copy if you can. :)

  8. Great review! Thank you so much for mentioning how Jim Kays artwork adds to the book. I dont know how authors and editors decide when to add art to a middle grade or YA book, but I love it when they do. This book is so incredible. I hope it is recognized by the ALA this year.

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, Tanya. Its hard not to mention Jim Kays artwork, because its so much more than an illustration here or there. The artwork, like that in a picture book, really completes the story, I feel. I hope that this book gets the recognition it deserves, too. :)

  9. I also think Patrick Ness is brilliant having read his Chaos Walking trilogy. I think The Knife of Never Letting Go is a must read (the other two books are also good, the first one is amazing). I cant wait to check out A Monster Calls from the library. Thanks for the review!

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, Jami. I definitely plan to pick up The Knife of Letting Go now! I do hope you enjoy A Monster Calls, but be warned that you might want a box of tissues handy.

  10. This is a book I wont soon forget and Im so excited to see that you both gave it a read and really enjoyed it. Such an emotional and challenging and rewarding one isnt it?

  11. Stephanie /

    Thanks for stopping by, Amy! Absolutely, this is the kind of book that you just want to press into peoples hands. Its just marvellous, and deals with such difficult themes without being trite or pat or full of platitudes.

  12. Krishna Kant /

    Thanks for the review. Its funny you think exactly the same thing about this book as I do. Its a very emotional and moving tale. Moved me to tears. I dont know how people manage having a terminally ill loved ones in real life. What anguish they must feel as they see their loved ones disappear in front of their eyes and they cant do anything about it.

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