A Monster Calls – Written by Patrick Ness, based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. Illustrated by Jim Kay.
(Published 2011, Walker Books)
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 one 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 is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.
A Monster Calls is all about a boy named Conor, who is in many ways isolated. His mum is undergoing cancer treatments, his dad is far away with a new family, and his gran, whilst physically present, is not close to Conor. He is also being bullied at school and has distanced himself from any friends he once had. At night, he is visited by a Monster, which happens to also be a yew tree from the churchyard behind his house. The Monster is confused about why Conor isn’t scared of him, but insists he has come because Conor called him. The Monster will visit several times to tell him 3 stories, with the condition that the next time he visits, Conor must tell him his story. I think this book was originally marketed somewhere around the early teen audience, but is a wonderful read for anyone.
(Coincidentally, [or not given I wanted to read before seeing the film] the movie has been released recently in Spain, with a UK release sometime in December/January. I’m very excited to see it – Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver all starring. The trailer is here.)
Siobhan Dowd came up with this story whilst she was undergoing her own treatment for cancer, but was unable to write it before passing away. She bequeathed her royalties to a charitable trust, which aims to bring the joy of reading to those who need it most. (I was lucky enough to go to last year’s Siobhan Dowd Memorial Trust lecture at the Edinburgh Book festival given by Matt Haig, who is great).
Patrick Ness took on the idea from the publisher and wrote this wonderful, sad story. I had been looking forward to reading this for a long time, and wasn’t disappointed. It’s a light fantasy, there being a sort of dark fairy-tale element to the Monster being a tree come walking. This book is truly unique, being a blend between words and illustration, often with full double page pictures. Jim Kay illustrated, and they are some of the most haunting and wonderful images I’ve ever seen. A few times whilst reading, there would be a page of text, then I would turn over to one of these large illustrated spreads and it would be like a blow to the chest. It’s hard to describe. Do you remember in A Series of Unfortunate Events – The Ersatz Elevator, when the orphans fall down a lift shaft and then there were a few pages of just black ink? It’s sort of like that, but heart-wrenching.
Ultimately this is a book about grief, and the struggle of guilt when you realise you might rather someone wasn’t around, with the wish their pain would end. Cheery stuff for a kids book right? But somehow, despite all the raw emotion, this book completely avoids sentimentality, and manages even to leave you feeling – if not uplifted – content.
***** – the first book I’ve given five stars in quite a while!
Have you read this or any other of Patrick Ness’s books? What else are you reading?