In my opinion this is one of the greatest books written predominantly for young readers in the last decade. Pure and intense emotion pours from each and every page. The initial idea for A Monster Calls belongs to Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed in 2007 due to terminal breast cancer. In 2009 Dowd posthumously won the Carnegie Medal for her novel Bog Child (2008) and though she sadly passed before being able to create the monster she dreamed of, the exceptional Patrick Ness was “handed a baton,” by Walker Books and brought Dowd’s idea to life. Ness is an acclaimed novelist for young readers, winning the Carnegie in 2011 for Monsters of Men (2010) and then again in 2012, consecutively, for A Monster Calls (2011). Ness has said since the publication of the book that when Walker Books asked him to take Dowd’s idea and write a novel he knew he would never be able to imitate Dowd. Instead Ness approached the story in an attempt to write a book Dowd would love. I believe he has succeeded.
“Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.”
The story centers around the 13-year old Conor O’Malley, an isolated young boy who is struggling to deal with his world collapsing around him. Conor, though independent and caring for his mother as well as himself whilst she battles cancer, has more troubles than anyone should ever want. His father is in America with his new wife and baby, his grandmother (in his opinion) is far from the ideal grandparent, he feels betrayed by his longest and closest friend and to top it all off he’s being severely bullied by the sadistic Harry and his cronies Anton and Sully. Despite all this there is something worse, much worse – a recurring nightmare which haunts him that Conor vows never to tell to anyone.
12:07… That’s when the monster calls. Behind Conor’s house, on a hill and in the graveyard there sometimes stands a Yew Tree. Sometimes because other times the yew tree isn’t there at all and becomes a gigantic, humanoid, yew tree hybrid which begins to visit Conor. The monster gives Conor a choice. He can listen to three stories from the monster and in return Conor will tell a fourth story, the nightmare, the truth or be eaten. Conor, not wanting to be devoured by a tree if he fails to meet the demands of the monster finds himself in turmoil between dream and reality, where his relationships and his ability to cope with his mother’s illness, as she worsens, are pushed to the very limit. Why has the monster called? What does he want? What will he do?
I cannot stress enough how important I feel it is for every one, of every age to read this book. The novel Ness has produced rips right through the very heart of you and I have no problem admitting I had tears in my eyes through much of it. I only wish I had this book when I was younger and dealing with similar circumstances because Ness hasn’t just gifted us something to be read, but something soul defining, something to carry with you in the good and the hardest of times.
On a final note, if you are planning on acquiring a copy of this novel then you MUST get the illustrated version. Jim Kay’s illustrations are just as much a part of the power of the story as the words. Kay won the Greenaway Medal for A Monster Calls, this is the only book ever whose author and illustrator, whether two persons or one, has won both the Carnegie and the Greenaway!
“Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”
BB Rating: 4.6/5