Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls, based on an idea by Siobahn Down
illustrated by Jim Kay
Book review by Rosalyne Bowmile
The truth will set you free
Conor O’Malley hates what life has become, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. At only thirteen he’s taken on the responsibility of the primary care giver, his mother too sick to make him breakfast. His absentee father no longer resides in the UK, but now in America with his new family.
Conor doesn’t mind. He knows it’s just a matter of time before the medicine kicks in, and Mom’ll regain her strength. Conor is of two minds. He sees his family trying to act like life is normal, yet their behaviour is not. None brave enough to broach him and have the “talk.” On the other side, he too doesn’t want to hear the truth about his mother’s illness. He wants life to go back to the way it once was, normal, before his mom got sick.
His life at school isn’t much better. Ever since the word got out about his mother’s illness, he’s been treated differently, almost like a porcelain doll that at times is invisible. He’s left alone, not only by his peers, but also by the teachers. He welcomes the daily torment from the bully Harry, a reminder of what’s normal in his life. Even this diminishes over time.
Nighttime's the worst for Conor, haunted by a nightmare, his most feared secret, one that leaves him in a drenched sweat. It began more than a year ago and rouses him from sleep almost nightly.
Wakened from a deep sleep at exactly 12:07, Conor groggily looks out his window at the giant yew tree that has transformed itself into a monster. Conor stares in disbelief; sure this is another nightmare, different from his other. It can’t be, he tells himself. “Monsters are for babies. Monsters are for bedwetters. Monsters are for-Conor.”
With courageous effort, Conor gets out of bed and faces the ancient monster. It is then he hears the reason for his visit. Conor beckoned him, but Conor has no recollection of how or why. He listens to the words of the monster, still bewildered by this new nightmare.
“I will come to you again of further nights. And I will tell you three stories...three tales from when I walked before. And when I have finished my three stories, you will tell me a fourth.” Conor is puzzled by the monster’s expectation. What truth does he want him to reveal? Never will Conor divulge his nightmare, a secret he shares with no one.
The next morning Conor sits up in bed, still confused by last night’s nightmare, different from the previous night, but still alarming. Tossing back the bed covers he plants his feet on the floor and feels the prickling of yew leaves. It is then he questions if his nightmare was perhaps real.
I felt instantly connected to Conor, his story one I’ve shared myself. I could feel his highs, lows, hopes, and most of all his need to have his world return to normal. It is a story that was written with such honesty and truth. Before you open the book, grab a box of Kleenex. A Monster Calls is one of the most emotionally charged stories I’ve ever read. It is seldom that I close a book and can think of little else. It resonated so deeply within me. It was like having to say good-bye to that special friend. I didn’t want to let it go.
The original idea of A Monster Calls was that of British author Siobhan Dowd. She had mapped out the outline and characters, but never had the chance to complete the book before passing away from cancer.
American author, Patrick Ness has taken Siobhan Dowd’s ideas and formulated them into his own book. A Monster Calls is now short-listed for the Carnegie Medal.
Illustrations by British artist Jim Kay are throughout A Monster Calls, fabulous pen and ink drawings that complement the story. His black and white drawings are intense and powerful. I not only looked through the book once, but several times, drawn into his world of creation. More of his artwork can be seen on his website, Jim Kay Illustrator.
Read more of Rosalyne's book reviews.
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