A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd
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 wants the truth.
Patrick Ness has become an iconic children’s author this last year with his best-selling trilogy Chaos Walking, which went on to win him a Costa Award. This latest offering from Ness is something entirely different, however. The ideas were passed on to him from Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, who sadly lost her battle to cancer which prevented her from writing this story herself. It is a huge responsibility for Ness to get this right, and do the story justice for Dowd, but also to add his own flare to the story. I have previously reviewed The Knife of Never Letting Go on my blog, but for some reason, as much as I appreciate Ness as a writer and his creativity, I just didn’t get on with the story. But this is where Ness has finally succeeded in making me a real fan of his work.
Conor is losing his mum to cancer. She is ill, fighting with the little life she has left but her end is unavoidable. Conor is visited each night by a tree in his back garden that transforms into a ginormous monster. The monster tells him various stories throughout with the deal that Conor must tell him his own story afterwards. The monster is not just any monster however – it is almost every bit of emotion he is feeling but cannot express – but in the shape of a monster. He is in denial of his mother’s failing health and cannot bare to admit to himself that she will die. But most of all he is wracked with guilt for simply wanting his mother to die. They have spent months living through her being in pain, being transported back and forth to hospital, being given many different treatments to no avail. It has gone on too long for Conor. I imagine that anyone who feels this way would feel absolutely horrible for doing so. But it is more than understandable. Waiting for someone to die is sometimes the harder bit. With death comes a kind of release and the hope of eventually moving on. But being stuck in limbo has to be the worst part. I felt so much for Conor and his emotions. Several times my eyes filled with tears, and I found myself having to put the book down unable to go on for a while. I love the way Ness hasn’t made this story so black and white – it is not just a story about someone losing his mum and not wanting her to go. It is about the true conflict of emotions we experience as human beings – half of him is wishing for her to live and the other half is wanting it all to end – not just for her sake, but for his too. Why should he feel guilty for feeling this way? The torment he suffers from feeling these emotions is haunting. It is only when he realises that admitting the truth can really set you free.
A Monster Calls is one of those books that will stay with you for the rest of your life. As you read it I am sure there will be someone you know that has lost a loved one through cancer and you will have that at the back of your mind throughout every word in this novel. I know I did.
I commend Ness for writing something so beautiful and moving. Never have I felt such emotion when reading a novel before. I think this is an important book for all adults and young adults to read, even if we are scared to read about such things. I know I felt somewhat terrified to delve into Conor’s world – to go on this journey with him. It is about the harsh reality of life and death and of how our emotions are not so simple in the end.
A Monster Calls is due to be published on the 2nd May 2011 in the UK, and September 2011 in the USA.