Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Next up in our Inky Awards series is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It becomes quickly apparent to the reader that Conor is drowning. His mother is on her third round of chemotherapy and she is dying. In fact she has barely days to live. It is also apparent that the monster wants the most dangerous thing of all; Conor’s secret shame.

What is absolutely heartbreaking about this novel is the yearning Conor experiences. He’s whole world is about to open up and disappear before him. His mother will leave him, just as his father left him for a new family. He will be cared for by an emotionally cold grandmother. He has no friends (having found himself alienated from everyone after his mother’s sickness became public knowledge), he is being physically and emotionally bullied by a boy in his class, and he is unraveling in the face of his, and his mother’s, reality.

I’m not ashamed to admit I cried during a majority of A Monster Calls. Around page 100 I gave up the gig and just sobbed (opposed to the don’tlookatme crying I was originally attempting). The strength of the novel is in Ness’ ability to create voice. Conor feels as real as you and I. He is a character that you willingly emotionally tie yourself to. He compels your compassion and sympathy, despite knowing that there is only heart break around the corner.

A Monster Calls is a simple story. There are no surprises of plot or miracle cures, it is just the sad tale of Conor in the last days of his mother’s life. The complexity of Conor’s emotions -anger, shame, abandonment, hate, love, sadness –  all wrapped up in Patrick Ness’ accessible writing style, and it is Ness who is the conduit here, ties us deftly and (so very) easily to Conor.

Complimenting the text is the illustrations by Jim Kay. I cannot imagine one without the other; they are two parts of a whole. It was an extremely interesting partnership as Ness’ writing is often very visual. Accompanied by the illustrations, this novel felt like a silent movie. The impressions of the drawings follow you while you’re reading; the monster fills your conscience, large and imposing.

Another brilliant performance by Patrick Ness, after his success with the Chaos Walking Trilogy.

Walker Books

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