Monday, November 14, 2011

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness — 224 pgs

In this earth shaking novel from acclaimed author Patrick Ness, a young boy begins the fight of his life against a monster that only he can see and recognize. When Conor wakes up at 12:07 a.m. with a monster calling his name from outside the window, he’s not all that afraid of what waits for him in the dark. The monster seems to grow out from the tree that’s in his backyard and wishes to tell Conor three stories. At the conclusion of his third story, Conor must tell his own. But the monster, though he appears repeatedly, is the least of Conor’s worries, for his mother is extremely ill and no one will tell him if she’s really getting better or not. Conor is also being viciously attacked by a group of school bullies, with one in particular who seems to know no bounds. So when the monster arrives, it’s with little fanfare from Conor, who seems to have more to fear than a great tree beast intent on telling him stories. But as each night and story begins to count down, Conor knows that his time is running out, and soon it will be time for him to reveal his own story: A story of terror, and loss, and fear; A story that houses the real monster that Conor is trying so desperately to run from. Told both in text and with dark and foreboding artwork, this is a story of the monster that lives in the deepest heart of all of us and its desire and will to break free.

I had heard a lot about this book before ever picking it up. I think the first time I ever read anything about it was over at Nymeth’s site, when she reviewed it and related how devastating and beautiful a read it was for her. I was instantly intrigued, because, lets face it, she knows a thing or two about great books! When I had the chance to grab this book at SIBA, I was all over it and knew no matter what else I had planned to read, this one was going to be on the top of my list. What I found was a book that was like no other I had read before, where sorrow was the neighbor of indescribable fear and where loyalty and love can divide itself into something tragic and heartbreaking.


Conor has a lot going on emotionally, and seemed, for most of the book, to be a little numb. His mother is very ill and no one will tell him the truth of what lies ahead. His father is in and out of his life and is shamelessly inconsistent in his son’s time of need. For some reason Conor feels the need to be punished for the terrible dreams he’s been having, dreams he cannot share with anyone else. It was hard to read about such a boy as this. Hard to see him act and react to a danger he’s not sure of and a future he’s unwilling to embrace. On the surface, Conor may seem resigned, but as the book peddles further and further, it becomes clear there’s a storm in this boy just waiting to break loose and destroy everything around him. His fears, anger and uncertainty begin to amass in his mind into a terrible guilt that nothing can assuage, and as he becomes more deeply embroiled in all the terrible feelings that surround him, an unlikely monster surfaces to both frighten and enlighten him. But it’s not this particular monster that holds any power for Conor, and soon the two are in the throes of a very unusual relationship.


This monster that begins to visit Conor is indeed terrifying and dark, and though he tries to frighten the young boy, Conor isn’t having any of that. Soon the monster begins to tell tales, but these are tales unlike any you’ve ever heard before. The lines between good and evil intermingle in these stories and nothing is as it should be. The stories and their outcomes are tremendously frustrating for Conor, and sometimes were frustrating for me as well. Nothing was as it seemed, and there were so many shades of grey in the ambiguity of the tales that I was bothered and confused. This is where the book excels, because while the monster shares his stories in the narrative, a whole other element of storytelling is going on with the black and white illustrations, which are wild and dark in and of themselves. There’s a haunting and very real menace in both the words and the pictures of this story.


When the monster reaches the end of his tales, it’s finally Conor’s turn to share the story that has been internally savaging him, and its conclusion was so painful and tragic I couldn’t help but be moved to tears. Here at last was the monster that had been terrifying the boy who could not cry. Here, finally, was the shocking and haunting truth that could not be denied. When it’s finally out in the open though, the monster doesn’t seem to lose its menace and it takes all the power the boy has to tame it into submission. Ness explores all this beautifully and with a measure of pain that cannot be denied or avoided. Reading the story of Conor’s monsters caused me to both despair and hope, to an equally incredible capacity. It was a story that was alive and pregnant with meaning and portent, and I was equally relieved and grieving when I turned the last page.

This was a relatively short book that will take readers no time at all to finish, though I would advise paying close attention to the illustrations, for they’re not only beautiful but they make their own statements about the story and its characters. Though it’s a sad and disturbing tale, it’s remarkably important and teaches a humbly resonant lesson on what it means both to grieve and to live through the terror that can take an unwitting hold in our lives. Very highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

27 comments:

Nymeth said...

Hooray! So glad to hear you loved it too, Heather!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think Ness is just an amazing writer! I think every adult that has read this has loved it, but I would like to know if kids "get" it in the same way.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Hey I have this on my nook, but haven't read it yet. Sounds great! I will have to try to get to it.
Thanks for the great review!

TheBookGirl said...

Your review took my breath away Heather -- I can only imagine what the book would do. This is probably not something I ever would have picked up on my own...that's why I read your blog faithfully :)

Anita said...

This book looks so intriguing. Wonderful review Heather. I love the illustrations.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This was a heavy read, heart-breakingly precious. Jill asks a good question though...would kids get it? I'm not sure. My son probably would, but my daughter probably would not.

Harvee said...

Sounds terrifying and haunting. No doubt a very good book. Was glad to read your review.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Are these illustrations from the book? This isn't a book I'd normally take a second look at (I'm a scaredy-cat!), but your review makes me understand that there's more here than just a scary story. Much more.

Zibilee said...

Dawn,
Yes, these are all illustrations from the book. They are all black and white (pencil drawings, I think) and they add a deeper nuance to the story. They are also wonderfully detailed and gorgeous as well. And you are right, there is a lot going on in this story emotionally. It's not really scary per se, but the emotional ramifications are dire and haunting.

Vasilly said...

I read this earlier this year and was underwhelmed by it. I'm glad that you were able to enjoy it. :-)

Suko said...

Gorgeous post! It truly sounds terrific, and your review is as spectacular as ever. I will look for this book.

bermudaonion said...

After all the great reviews, I'm anxious to pick this one up. The illustrations look fabulous to me!

Alison's Book Marks said...

Your review gave me chills! Wow.

Ti said...

Wow... sounds like a very powerful read. At one point in your review, I got all choked-up. I am such an emotional reader and what you described gave me chills.

Jenners said...

This seems very very intense and powerful. I'm going to have to read it.

Beth F said...

Had to skim because I have this on my list. I think I'd better bump it up in the pile. Between you, Ana, Jill, Sandy, and others I can't believe I haven't read it yet.

Audra said...

Okay, I'm getting it -- I've seen lots of swoons over this book but no one I 'know' has read it -- but your review sealed the deal for me!! This sounds amazing (and scary, and emotional) -- I can't wait.

Also, I just have to say that I totally loved your comments on Carrie's review of Salvage the Bones -- I had the exact same response upon reading her review. You nailed it.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I''m not sure if this one would be for me. It sounds really intense.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I cannot wait to read this one! The illustrations look incredible and the story sounds mesmerizing. Cannot wait!

Amy said...

Fantastic review, glad you liked it!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I am currently in an "all things Ness" faze so this one is going to be a must read!

Jenny said...

It's amazing how uniformly laudatory all the reviews of this book have been. I want to read it so much! I have a big crush on Patrick Ness. I am just sort of sad in advance for how much I know I'm going to cry. :p

Broche E.B. Fabian said...

I love everything Patrick Ness writes. I read this book while on a plane and was sitting there sobbing while the person next to me looked concerned. Totally worth it. :) New follower here! Love your site, can't wait to read more reviews.

Amy said...

I haven't heard or read anything bad about this book but it intimidates me a little bit because of all of the pain and difficulties in Conor's life. Still, I am extremely curious about it and want to read patrick Ness' books. After reading your wonderful review I am putting this book on my list for the next time I purchase some books.

Aths said...

I didn't know there were pictures in this book! And it does sound fabulous. I admit to skipping reviews of this book earlier, but now I am so intrigued! I have to read this.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I MUST HAVE THIS BOOK. I had never heard of Patrick Ness before this blog post, but I can't wait to grab a copy of this book. The gray areas you mentioned really intrigue me, and I would love to find out what Connor's tale is all about. Great review. :)

Swapna said...

Wow, I can't wait to get to this one. I'm so glad I picked up a copy at SIBA!

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