Review: ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness. Inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd

AMonsterCalls

Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.

Equally poignant and heart-breaking, A Monster Calls is a story about opposites – life and death, truth and lies. Thirteen-year-old Conor wakes up from a nightmare at 12:07 to find a monster, formed out of a yew tree, outside of his bedroom window. It is not the monster from his nightmare, but it is a monster nonetheless. By day, Conor is dogged in his determination to maintain a normal home life with his sick mother, but struggles with how students and teachers at school treat him. By night, the yew tree monster tells Conor tales that leave him confused and angered by their meaning, more so when they seem to fail to explain why the yew monster is there at all.

A Monster Calls, based on the idea by Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before she could write the story, perfectly captures the delicacy of grief. Patrick Ness weaves the mythical fables of the Yew tree monster stories with the day-to-day numbing frustration of feeling ostracised by people who, faced with the threat of coming across as insensitive or inappropriate, treat the grieving with heightened artificial sympathy or complete indifference.  

The hard cover edition contains haunting yet beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay that encapsulate the foreboding mood of the story. While aimed at the YA market (13+), this book is an important read, not just for those who have felt suffocated and confused by grief, but also for any reader who appreciates masterful story-telling. The subject matter of A Monster Calls is heart-breaking, but its treatment of the subject matter is beautiful and ultimately full of hope.

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