A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness and first published in 2011. It is a dark fantasy story that tells the tale of a young teenager who is forced to come to terms with his mother’s terminal illness. The novel stands alone, so you do not have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Connor O’Malley is not having the best time of things. His mother has been sick for a long time and her treatments do not seem to be making her better as quickly as he hoped. This causes a lot of tension for him at school. The other kids mostly seem to ignore him, as though they’re scared about how fragile he is. Teachers aren’t much better as they seem to think that he needs babying. No matter what he does, he does not seem to get in trouble. The only person who does see him is the school bully – Harry – who now finds him to be an easy target.

Things are worse still for Connor at home. Although he thinks he does a good job of caring for his mother, no one else seems to agree. His grandmother is quick to move in to take charge, bossing Connor around and treating him like a little kid. His father, on the other hand, is barely there. He has a new life in America now and does nothing but pay fleeting visits in which he tells Connor to be brave.

It is 12:07 at night when the monster first comes to Connor. The creature forms itself out of an old yew tree and seems surprised that Connor is not more afraid of him, yet it is not the scariest monster that he has ever seen. Yet this monster has come with a purpose. It will return to visit him and tell three stories from previous times it has walked the earth. When all of these stories are told, it expects Connor to tell him one thing in return – his truth. And that is the most frightening thing of all.

I must admit that I have owned this novel for a while, but have been putting off reading it due to its subject matter. Despite being aimed at young teen readers, A Monster Calls is not a easy novel to read as you do have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. However, there is no denying the fact that is a very important novel that carries a powerful message.

Although the novel centres around the seriousness of Connor’s mother’s illness, this isn’t truly what the story is about. More than anything A Monster Calls focuses on Connor’s state of mind as he is forced to internalise this. Because of this, it is a novel that will certainly speak to anyone who has ever lost a loved one to cancer. Through the monster’s three tales, Connor is forced to confront and accept aspects about himself that he feels unable to voice in front of his mother.

So what is the novel about? Well, it is a story about the power of belief, both as a way to heal and a more negative force that prevents one from seeing the truth. It focuses on the difficulty in accepting the facts of life in a world where happy-endings are not guaranteed. It also focuses on why this is important, as truth may be painful to say out loud but doing so is necessary to allow a person to heal and move on.

At the same time, A Monster Calls looks at how a terminal illness affects an entire family. You really do feel Connor’s isolation within the novel. Other children find it hard to interact with him at school due to the shadow of his mother’s diagnosis, and teachers seem to give him preferential treatment which only serves to make him feel more like a pariah. The effect that these have on Connor’s psyche are staggering, causing him to compress his fear, guilt and depression into a complex mass. Although he tries to ignore the truth of his situation, the sympathy of others keeps this foremost in his mind. He feels scared and angry, yet at the same time feels guilty for feeling this way when others expect for him to be strong.

The monster and the yew tree are also a powerful metaphor, as are every story that it tells. Although Connor does not really understand the link between the tales at first, the connection comes quite clear as he reaches his own tale. Due to the fact that the novel is quite short, its pacing is perfect. Its short chapters clearly show how close Connor is to breaking point, and the final tale allows him to purge these emotions. Not only does this allow him to start the healing process that he desperately needs, but it is also cathartic for the reader. Part of the reason that I think A Monster Calls is such an important novel is that it provides the purest form of expression for anyone who has been in Connor’s position, as well as a measure of understanding for all those lucky enough to have not been.

Because of this, A Monster Call ends on a perfect and poignant note. Connor learns the importance of honesty. It may be difficult to say how you feel in these situations, but it’s important to allow yourself to be angry, sad and selfish. While people may tell you to bottle things up and “be strong”, this is not healthy and one needs to be able to put a voice to these negative feelings to heal.

Due to this, the reader does truly feel for Connor by the last page. The way that Ness characterises him felt completely realistic, catching his youth but also the fact that he understood far more than his parents were telling him. The relationship with him and his family – particularly the understanding that he reaches with his grandmother – was also wonderful. It felt very organic, both being affirming and heart-breaking in equal measure.

I really do not have much more to say. A Monster Calls is a wonderful novel but you really do have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. It is a sad story but is also deeply moving, focusing on the complexity of a young teen who is forced to accept the fact that his mother will soon die. It is certainly a novel that I would recommend.

A Monster Calls can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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