“Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”
A Monster Calls is a story written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay. It follows 13-year-old Connor as he struggles to come to terms with his mother’s failing battle against cancer. As her condition worsens, the yew tree in Connor’s yard begins appearing at 12:07 each night, taking the form of a monster. The Monster has come for a reason, one which Connor must discover by listening to the stories he tells.
Days after finishing this, I’m still completely blown away by how beautiful this book is. I’d seen the stellar reviews and gotten more than enough recommendations to read it, but none of this prepared me for how hard I’d be hit in the feels. If you don’t like sobbing on your books, don’t read this.
It amazes me that Ness is able to flesh out these characters so well within such a short amount of space. This is not a long book by any means, but these characters feel as though they’re flesh and bone. Connor’s relationships with the other characters are all so raw and realistic, and while you might detest some of the characters’ actions, it’s easy to see from each of their perspectives. From Connor’s father’s inability to be a parent to his mother’s avoidance of the truth to his grandmother’s difficulty in understanding him – there are so many family dynamics that enrich the story (and make it that much harder to finish). And the Monster himself was a character I wasn’t expecting to love as much as I did, but he wound up being my favorite.
The topics covered throughout A Monster Calls are also commendable, particularly when you consider the length. Ness delves deep into loss and grief, and brings to the surface the things that most human beings would rather not discuss – for example, the idea that in some buried place, the loved ones of those battling illnesses may wish for an end to all the suffering, even if it isn’t a favorable one. Invisibility also comes up frequently, as bystanders tend to treat those suffering in a way that unintentionally disregards them completely. We see this when Connor’s teachers and peers leave him to his suffering, trying not to bother him but unintentionally making him feel ignored and alone in the process.
Storytelling is also a central theme in A Monster Calls, and I admire the way that Ness (through the Monster) inverts the expected outcomes of the tales, emphasizing the idea that human beings can exist as a complex mesh of opposing actions and beliefs.
Finally, Jim Kay’s illustrations genuinely make this story come to life on the pages. They’re dark and haunting, and they perfectly insert the reader into the mindset needed to read such a tale. Without the pictures, I do feel that something would be lacking.
I gave A Monster Calls 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, and I’d honestly recommend it to anyone with a soul. It’s an outstanding little book. Go pick it up.