Saturday, April 14, 2012

"A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness

Darkness. The monster stares at you from a distance. Is this just a dream? Maybe. The next night, it's closer. It's almost smiling at you. The following night, it's outside your window. It's calling your name, threatening to swallow you whole. You find that the lines between a dream and reality continually blur. But...what if this monster is there because you summoned it?

The gorgeous artwork by Jim Kay literally splatters across the pages of Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls, allowing it to perfectly encompass the dark and chaotic tale that fills its 219 pages. Various full-page illustrations not only add to the visual imagery but serve as dramatic pauses that add to the weight of the portrayed moments.

Conor is a British teenager dealing with a mother's battle with cancer, a father relocated to America, and a grandmother whose personality is antithetical to his own. He faces the torment of bullies at school and unwanted sympathy from everyone around him. His greatest fear: a nightmare that throws him awake and screaming in the middle of the night. He knows the monster is coming.

One night, he wakes up in the middle of the night at 12:07 to outside noise. A gaze out of the window confirms what he's been dreading: a monster is coming for him. The yew tree that sat behind his house for years has come to life. In a twist of irony, the tree monster declares that it's only there because Conor summoned him. Conor has been wrestling with a secret--a truth--that the tree intends to bring out of him. As his mother's cancer treatments intensify, his father temporarily returns from America, and Conor is thrust into his grandmother's care. He's losing touch with his social life and alienating those that care about him. The tree strikes a deal: it will tell three stories...Conor will tell his story. Not just any story, though. The story. The truth he's been hiding.

Conor begins to lose his grip on his reality, shunning the tree's stories as "cheats" and "tricks" instead of meaningful messages. Loneliness and darkness continue to pull Conor into the nightmare as his mother struggles to stay alive. Is the tree really there because Conor summoned him? A yew tree is the source of natural medicine and healing. Can it heal Conor's mother? Will it be too late?

I.

Loved.

This.

Book.

Patrick Ness has offered a text-only version of A Monster Calls, which would remove a key element of its story-telling. It would be similar to removing an amazing soundtrack from an epic film. The story tackles really critical issues in a young adult's life: family, divorce, death, bullying, friendship, and the list goes on. The entire tale is ridiculously engaging, and I couldn't imagine any aspect being conveyed a different way. Having been through a family loss (parental divorce), I was able to identify with Conor on a very deep level. I don't normally get choked up at the end of a novel, but this book moved me.

Students at the middle and high school level should absolutely take the time to devour this book. It's a visceral look that some more conservative parents may take issue with, but the argument can be made that it's crucial for adolescents to know the importance of having an outlet to deal with hardship. No child should have to be privy to the unnatural death of a parent, but it certainly happens. The experiences that Conor goes through are great points for class discussion--dealing with bullies, outlets for expression, handling family illness.

9 comments:

runner4life23 said...

Wow David, your review captivated me as well :) I will definitely be reading this novel sometime this summer. When I first looked at the cover I was like, o no, another ghost story. Sorry, I'm not good with scary, but this book sounds great. All the details and struggles sounds very intriguing and I want to know the outcome. You are right, the problems that Conor faces are relevant to every young adult. I agree with the age groups you choose for the book since everyone can take something out of this book and identify very well with it. Great job David, I really enjoyed reading your review :)

Safa said...

David,

Sounds like a must read and I think the monster calling is symbolic to a variety of life issues in anyone's life. Sometimes with issues of everyday life, comes pressure and perhaps that's the reason why it's important to address things first hand as they unfold in one's life. I would like to many students of high school level would enjoy reading something like this. It's sounds intriguing!!!

Safa

Demitra said...

I am often at fault for judging a book by its cover, and this would have been one of those times that I passed a book by based on its cover illustration. However, your review completely changed my mind. You made this book sound so intriguing that I absolutely must find out what truth Conor is unwilling to face and how the story ends. Though it sounds a bit dark, it may be one of those times where a certain amount of darkness is necessary to convey the point that life is not always light and airy, sometimes it is dark and disturbing. This book sounds captivating!

amberK said...

Like everyone else, I think this was a great review! Before I get distracted, I wanted to mention how great it was that you were using dark/monster-like diction throughout your post, for example, "devour" in your last sentence. I don't know if you were doing that on purpose, but it really added a lot to the review and the story. "A Monster Calls" seems like a lot of kids would be able to relate to it, and unlike many of the books that have been reviewed, it would work really well in a classroom setting.

Cessacolypse said...

I've never really read a book that gives me the same 'thrill' as watching a scary movie does...is this book more of a thrill or a freaky mystery? Either way, I'm kind of wondering what the big secret is...

cstephens said...

Now I have yet another book to read. I am always a huge fan of great illustration in a book, and from the cover I think the illustration in this book would fit in that category.
I know you said it is perfect for a middle school audience, but could you justify teaching it to older students? I love this type of novel and I would hate to have to exclude it because it is too young for high school students.

David Morrison said...

It's definitely more of a thrill, but in an unconventional sense. Although an awesome book, it's certainly not a typical "scary book".

Charles,

It's absolutely good for a high school audience. The reading level is fairly easy, but the topics in it are 100% applicable to a secondary audience. It can also be great for a creative writing class, since it really utilizes environment and motif really well.

Susan said...

If you liked this book, you should check out The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. It's a great book with supernatural stuff, family issues, fairy tales, and child grieving. This sounds like it has a similar sort of idea and I think you might like it.

Tom Philion said...

Ditto on "lost things," terrific book, I had the same thought as I read your great review. TP