A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Cindy: There are books that make me sad. Some that make me cry. And then there are books that unhinge me like A Monster Calls (Candlewick 2011). I read this on a plane last spring and was crying from the forward explaining the back story. Siobahn Dowd, one of my favorite authors, lost her life to cancer before she could write this book, but left behind her notes for the story. Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking trilogy) was selected to write the story. As Publisher’s Weekly says in their review:

“If one point of writing is to leave something that transcends human existence, Ness has pulled a fast one on the Grim Reaper, finishing the story death kept Dowd from giving us.”

In his forward Ness says:

“This would have been her fifth book. She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have was time.”

So I started reading, and crying, and then sobbing and the woman seated next to me kept feeding me tissues from her purse until finally she couldn’t stand it any longer and said, “WHAT ARE YOU READING?”

Well, this is a book about a lonely boy named Conor who is struggling with bullies at school and a seriously ill mother at home. Recurring nightmares wake him, but one night an ancient, wild monster, a tree, pulls up its roots and comes to the boy’s bedroom window. He announces that he only comes walking for matters of life and death. “I expect to be listened to.” He plans to tell Conor three stories from times that he went walking before and then. Then. “You will tell me a fourth…and it will be the truth.”

From there spins a tale of darkly comic and heartwrenchingly sad events examining bullying and bravery, courage and compassion, denial and death. The story is full of quotable passages:

“Stories don’t always have happy endings. This stopped him because they didn’t, did they? … Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions that you couldn’t expect.”

I feared that I was reacting to the back story, the loss of a great writer, and my own personal grief over my mother’s death as I read this. And, I’m sure that is the case, in part. Like Conor, the monster knew I needed him. But, this book has lingered in my head all year and when I flip to any page I encounter brilliant writing, amazing illustrations by Jim Kay and overall exquisite book making. I know that I am holding something incredibly special. Don’t miss this one.

Lynn: I’m not a fan of sad books and it’s not really because I don’t want to explore the issues that make me cry it’s because far too many sad books make me cry without giving me something to take away from the experience besides a soggy kleenex.  That is certainly not the case with A Monster Calls, which is probably the finest book I have read this year or in several years.  This book certainly made me cry but it also made me think, made me see through Conor’s eyes and compelled me, through the story, to explore my own emotions.  I am still thinking about this book many weeks after reading it.  This may be the most honest book I’ve ever read about the experience of watching a loved one die.  It is a topic almost too painful for most of us but Ness writes with clarity, beauty and such masterful storytelling that it becomes possible to grapple with this most difficult of experiences.  Readers, young and old, will be changed by this book.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

6 Comments on "A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness"

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  1. trkravtin@charter.net' Teresa Rolfe Kravtin says:

    A great blog review, ladies. Thanks!

  2. carter-day@ypsilibrary.org' Deb Day says:

    Great review–I had read other reviews and decided to buy this book, but with money being so short, I decided to put it in a cart and wait until my next budget year begins. After reading your review, I’ll definitely put it in our YA collection. It sounds amazing–I can’t wait to read it even though it sounds extremely sad–man’s inhumanity to man, etc. Thanks for sharing your impressions with us.

  3. chetagirl35@yahoo.com' dianna smith says:

    this is so cool i just live for reading and it’s so cool i think ill read some of these books

  4. ryan.slego@hotmail.co.uk' ryan says:

    i totally agree! this book brought me to tears and im a 13 year old boy!

    it is incredably sad and moving and i would recommend it to anyone

  5. I’m with you, Ryan. We just had another cancer death in our family and I’ve been thinking of this book a lot lately. I’m reading Ness’ More Than This right now. We’ll be blogging that soon. Have you read it?–Cindy

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