Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness; Illustrated by Jim Kay

Stunning. Took my breath away!

I am going to share two reviews with you today.  The first I will write as if you are visiting my blog for the first time, and you're looking for a simple review of an incredible book.  The second, I am writing to you in the dark, and we are going to have a very personal conversation between friends, because this is no simple book.


"The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do."

Every night, Conor had the same nightmare.  One night at 12:07, Conor woke up from that nightmare and came face to face with a monster. The monster was startled that Conor wasn't afraid of him. This monster wasn't nearly as scary as his nightmares, neither the nightmares he had while asleep, nor the nightmares he experienced while Conor was awake.  Conor had bullies tormenting him at school, a grandmother who didn't seem to like him very much, a father who rarely left his other family in America to visit him, and his Mum was battling cancer. 

The monster returned to visit Conor, promising him to tell him three stories.  The fourth story was up to Conor to tell.  It must be his story and it might just be his most difficult challenge yet, because the monster demands something from Conor that no one else does - the fearsome truth.

"You know that your truth, the one you hide, Conor O'Malley, is the thing you are most afraid of."

Readers will be swept up by Conor's journey as he travels through his tricky forest of grief and pain with the monster as his guide. You will feel Conor's loneliness, his despair, his rage, and his utter sorrow.  Patrick Ness has taken this idea by the late Siobhan Dowd and brilliantly weaved it into a beautiful book that readers of all ages will enjoy.

"You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do."

The illustrations by Jim Kay are particularly beautiful, full of movement and emotion that will give a reader pause.  The darkness and the light jump off the page.  Even though the subject matter and the illustrations are dark, do not let this deter you. The beauty of A MONSTER CALLS is its ability to traverse this slippery tale by focusing on the fear, instead of the sorrow.  It may hit a reader hard if the subject matter hits close to home, but this book should not be missed.

I highly recommend A MONSTER CALLS for you, for your family, for your best friend. 



If we measure the success of a book by the level of emotion it elicits in a reader, than A MONSTER CALLS is surely at the top of my list.

"Stories are like wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"

When I opened this book, and let it loose, it certainly did wreak havoc.
I wish I could tell you I read A MONSTER CALLS in one sitting, because not only is it possible, but it's probably recommended to get the full effect.  Instead, I forced myself to walk away from it. Several times. I was hoping to take a breather, hoping the ending wouldn't hit me as hard as I thought it might.

I was wrong.

A MONSTER CALLS left me in a puddle of tears and a sob stuck in my throat that still hasn't gone away.  Still. You see, I was Conor.   I was ten years older than Conor, so I didn't have the bullies tormenting me, or the grandma to scold me.  But, I did have a mom with cancer.  I had the loneliness that pushed my friends away.  I had the few friends that wouldn't let me.  I had the disillusion that I was in control.  I had the truth, and the stubbornness that wouldn't let see it.  What I missed, what I needed, was the monster to put a hand on my shoulder and guide me, to tell me the truth was okay, no matter how ugly it might seem. 

It has been 11 years since my mom died of cancer, and even though I'm an adult and time has passed, there is a lot about that time I wish I could change.  Like Conor, I didn't want to let go.  I wouldn't let her go. I sill hold on to a lot of guilt, even though common sense tells me there was nothing I could have said or done that would have kept my mom alive.  I know there was nothing I needed to say, because she knew it all.  Moms always do. Here I am, though, 11 years later, and the truth still hurts...and I still can't let her go.

This second review has been  beyond difficult to write, to share.  I'm not even sure I'll keep it here.  But, it's just you and me. Two friends, in a dark room.  Holding onto a pillow. Until the tears stop falling and sobs end, and life moves forward.  Thank you for allowing me to share this with you.

If you have a friend or loved one who has experienced loss, give them this book with care...but give it to them.  They might just learn something about themselves from Conor, the monster, and their stories.


I first learned of A MONSTER CALLS from Raging Bibliomania (read her review here). Her glowing review caught my attention, and I knew I had to read it. Thank you, , for introducing me to a book that has touched me so deeply.

Book Extras:
Add it to your Goodreads TBR List
Candlewick book page
Siobhan Dowd Trust

About the Book:
A MONSTER CALLS By Patrick Ness, Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
Illustrated by Jim Kay

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Recommended Age: 12 and Up
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press (May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1406311529
  • ISBN-13: 978-1406311525

  • About the Authors:
    Patrick Ness is the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling Chaos Walking trilogy. He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he lives in London.

    Siobhan Dowd spent twenty years as a human rights campaigner for PEN and Amnesty International before her first novel, A SWIFT PURE CRY, was published in 2006. She won the Carnegie Medal posthumously in 2009 after her death at the age of forty-seven.

    About the Illustrator:
    Jim Kay studied illustration and worked in the archives of the Tate Gallery and the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, two experiences that heavily influence his work. His images for A MONSTER CALLS use everything from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures. Jim Kay lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

    Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.


    Zibilee said...

    I loved this book too, and I can totally understand what you say about having to take small breaks away from it. When I got to the end, my heart just crumpled up, and I cried and cried. This is a very powerful book, and I am so glad that you read it and feel the same. Great review today!

    bermudaonion said...

    I understand this book is excellent, I just wonder if I could handle it right now.

    Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

    Wow Alison! A beautiful review! I love Ness's Chaos Walking series so this is just the gentle push I needed to add this one to the TBR SOON wish list!

    RevitaDerm Review said...

    It must be his story and it might just be his most difficult challenge yet, because the monster demands something from Conor that no one else does the fearsome truth.

    Kaye said...

    Hi Alison, just popping in to say Merry Christmas!

    TerryLynnJohnson said...

    great review! Next on my reading list!

    Shannon said...

    I have read this powerful book and wanted to read your review after Sheila over at Book Journey wrote about it. I cried again. Your review brought out the emotional side of me just like when I read this book. :)


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