“Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”
Conor is a young lad with far too many problems on his plate. He wakes nearly every night from a recurring nightmare that is too horrible for him to think about. He’s picked on by a trio of bullies at school. His home life—living with a single mom whom he loves dearly—is fraught with A Big Problem. And to make matters even more complicated, a monster shows up outside his house one night at seven minutes after midnight, calling for him.
Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls is definitely one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read. The book tackles a serious subject matter—cancer—in a way unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. Conor’s monster, a wicked and spiny thing straight from the Wilds, is a vivid beast with an attitude that dares not be trifled with. A tentative deal is struck between Conor and the monster: the monster will tell Conor three stories and then Conor will tell the monster the truth about his nightmare.
This is the basic premise of A Monster Calls. The book is a short, gorgeous thing, filled with illustrations that pull the eyes in for long moments. The plot is simple, and yet it is not shallow. The stories from the monster are great to think on, for both the Reader and for Conor. They’re fantastic cautionary tales worth the read alone.
I confess that the artwork was enough to pull me into this read. The detail is wild, easily finding a home in the realm of dream. Jim Kay, the illustrator, has created several wonderful works of art for this book. They all fit the tone of the scenes for which they're drawn. The style reminds me of stuff from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, only more sketch like. And, perhaps because of the story, I'm also reminded of Where the Wild Things Are.
One cannot help but feel an overwhelming dread shortly after starting the book. With each page turned the dread grows thicker, the fate more and more certain. As I finished up the last several pages I read quickly, hoping to pass the deep punches to the gut unscathed. I did not. I closed the book and sighed heavily. I believe I told Keisha something like, “Oh my gosh I feel like bawling.” Why do you want to read something like that? she asked. “Because the emotions make me feel alive.” (Yes, I'm a dork.)
And they do. And that’s exactly why I recommend Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls. That's the whole reason to read, is it not? To feel something? Ness's words, along with Kay's illustrations, pierced me.
This book is a great tool for anyone who is losing a loved one to cancer, but one's circumstances need not be so cursed to get something from the novel. I'm of the opinion that we all need to read something from time to time that makes us appreciate life a little more, that makes us pay attention to those that are hurting around us, that makes us thankful for what we have. A Monster Calls does just that. It's not an easy book to read, in terms of emotional impact, but it is a rewarding book. It is enjoyable. It is beautiful. It is tragic.
If you’ve got a few hours (probably around two-ish) to spare and are itching for some quasi-Realism, then look no further than A Monster Calls. Wow. That should do it.