YA Friday: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Friday, November 04, 2011

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd)
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Genre: YA, fantasy, scary book
Publisher: Walker and Company, 2011
Source: Library
Read for: Fun

Conor O'Malley has been having nightmares, in addition to the nightmare of his waking life -- his mom throwing up every day, unable to stay awake long enough to cook a meal, the kids bullying him at school, his mean, ungrandmotherly grandmother, his absent father. But when a monster shows up outside his window, it isn't the monster from the nightmare. This monster wants to tell Conor stories -- but he also wants Conor to tell him a story, one more terrifying than Conor wants to face.

Wow. This book. It is short, and the language is simple and concise -- I read it in just an hour or two. But between the lines of the simple story, it deals with some powerful themes, like justice, good and evil, and who is ever really right. It takes anger and crushing grief and looks at them head on. It examines the fact that adults really can't fix everything, and that in fact the way some of them handle situations for their children actually makes things much, much worse. In short, it isn't always an easy book to read, but it has an important message that I think could help many people, not only young teens dealing with grief.

The presentation of the story is stellar. I've never read anything else by Patrick Ness (although I hear that the Chaos Walking trilogy is a must-read) and I loved his simple, powerful language. I think the writing of the monster's dialogue is the strongest bit of the story. The monster speaks almost rhythmically, growling out wisdom in his menacing voice. The illustrations are also powerful -- the stark, blurry, black and white pictures complemented the story's atmosphere.

Conor just broke my heart, the way he tried to take care of everything for his mom, wiping the counters and making dinner, while his stress and sadness and anger were battling it out inside of him. When he first meets the monster and it asks him if he is afraid, Conor says, "Shout all you want. I've seen worse." It reminded me of the sweet kids I worked with this summer, the eight-year-old who was fiercely protective of her mother, the six-year-old who climbed on my back for a piggy-back ride and told me all about how she didn't want her dad to die and what surgeries he had undergone. They're not afraid of some loud, large being yelling in their window -- they know what else is out there. The way the monster allowed Conor to finally express his emotions was powerful. As we get to know Conor, we see that he is a controlled, even-tempered kid, so when he finally breaks loose it is frightening and heartbreaking. I felt his emotions as if they were my own.

I loved the symbol of the monster coming to heal Conor. We all have to deal with something at some point, whether it is illness, accident, rejection, or failure. The monster didn't represent the tough situations, however; he represented what it takes to pull through them. Allowing ourselves to survive when all we want to do is curl up in the fetal position can be the toughest part of an ordeal, a monster impossible to defeat. However, Conor didn't defeat the monster -- he walked with it until he understood how to leave it.

As I said before, this isn't an easy book to read -- it brought me to tears more than once. However, I think it is an important resource to deal with grief, whether or not the griever is in Conor's exact situation or is dealing with something slightly different. It is definitely something I will be carrying in my arsenal of non-medical tools as a nurse.

4.5 stars

Warnings: 1 or 2 little swears.


  1. Oh goodness! This book sounds incredibly amazing! I've seen other really awesome reviews of this one and I so desperately need to get me a copy! I want to read it SO bad!!

  2. It is so beautiful and heartbreaking! It's a simple story but there is a lot to it. You will love it!


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