A Monster CallsLife for Conor has been completely changed by his mother's cancer. Breakfasts alone, as his mother struggles with the effects of her treatments. The recurring nightmares, filled with screaming and falling. And of course, school - where everyone avoids him, not knowing what to say. And then, the monster comes. At 12:07, to be precise. The monster is looming, giant drawn up from the earth, from the ancient yew tree outside Connor's window.
by Patrick Ness
inspired from an idea by Siobhan Dowd
illustrations by Jim Kay
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 12 - 15
available from your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
"Conor O'Malley, it said, a huge gust of warm compost-smelling breath rushing through Conor's window, blowing his hair back. Its voice rumbled low and loud, with a vibration so deep Conor could feel it in his chest.Jim Kay's illustrations add a powerful, almost visceral element to A Monster Calls. He uses everything from beetles to breadboards to create marks, textures and images from Conor's dreams and his sense of reality. The dark pen and ink, along with relief printing and various printed textures, convey the dark, twisted, nameless horror and grief that consumes Conor. The illustrations are perfectly pitched toward a teen audience, suitably abstract, dark and disturbing.
I have come to get you, Conor O'Malley, the monster said." (p. 8)
This book is utterly compelling, completely riveting, and deeply painful to read. On the one hand, I want to tell everyone I know about it. And on the other hand, I can't imagine the effect it would have on children. My 5th grader would get terrible nightmares from this - she just wouldn't be able to process Conor's pain. And yet other children yearn for books that make them feel, that make them understand others' pain, perhaps to get a sense that their pain is understandable or manageable, or to get a sense that they are not alone.
Each person will bring their own stories, their own journeys to A Monster Calls. What I was so impressed with was the way Ness approaches this story. As Tasha Saeker writes in Waking Brain Cells,
"Ness does not duck away from anything difficult here, rather he explores it in ways I haven’t seen before. He takes the darkness and makes it real, makes it honest, creates truth from it and lays it all bare. It is a book that is difficult to read but too compelling to put down."As Ness writes in his author's note, A Monster Calls was inspired by an idea developed by the writer Siobhan Dowd, the author of "four electric young adult novels", as Ness says. She had this idea for a story, but "what she didn't have, unfortunately, was time." Dowd passed away from breast cancer before she was able to develop her ideas further. But her ideas grew in Ness's imagination, and he ran with them.
I was fascinated reading a conversation between Patrick Ness and two teachers who both lost their mothers to illness during their childhood. Head over to Monica Edinger's blog Educating Alice to read Ness's thoughtful comments on their reactions.
A Monster Calls has been recognized by many as one of the best books of 2011:
- New York Times Notable Books of 2011
- Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2011
- Publisher's Weekly Best Books of 2011
- Cybils Awards nomination, Fantasy/SciFi for middle/elementary
- SLJ's Heavy Medal Mock Newbery shortlist
Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.