I have been reading a lot of Patrick Ness’s work lately. The Chaos Walking trilogy was exceptional and More Than This was certainly another thought-provoking book, though I felt it had a poor ending, unfortunately — but it was a great read nonetheless. A Monster Calls by Ness is a terribly sad and cruel book to read, but does deal with the raw human emotions that one would feel when having a dying parent.
Ness was asked by the family of deceased author Siobhán Dowd to complete the book based on the manuscript Dowd had started before passing away from cancer. The young protagonist in the story, named Conor, is going through the turmoil of watching his mother die slowly and painfully from cancer. Conor has other worries though; most nights, he is visited frequently by a horrific monster outside his window. The monster is both a hindrance and a help to young Conor and he struggles to see if the ghoul is real or if it is just simply the manifestation of his troubled mind. I loved guessing whether the monster was real or imaginary in the story — it never becomes clear but it fades into insignificance as the book draws to the end. The monster flips from being both friend and foe depending on its humor. This flip would lead to an edge of uneasiness in the narrative which kept one guessing.
Though this book is a compelling read, it is dark and desperately sad. When it takes the form of a fairy tale, the monster tells three stories in the book which are entirely unconventional stories that are supposed to teach Conor some meaning in his battle with grief. However, the stories are cruel and puzzling. I enjoyed this aspect of the book. I also felt that the book really dealt with the true emotions of death, not the typical Hollywood style grief. Conor is not heartbroken nor does he mope around and feel sorry for himself. He is angry and embarrassed. He hates the attention of being the only child of a sick mother. He hates feeling different. As harsh as it sounds, he is almost relieved by his mothers death in spite of loving her as much as any son could.
This book could be easily read in an hour or two and the illustrations, by Jim Kay, are haunting and powerful. They are some of the most moving pictures I have seen in any book. The monster is enormous and grotesque; the pictures are dark and grainy. The illustrations underlines the enormity of the burden Conor feels as he stumbles through the story, and this feature really added to the book. A Monster Calls is a book every grieving person should read. It is also a book I would recommend to a teenager or young adult who is experiencing the loss of a parent or an ill relative. One could not have but a heavy heart when finishing this book.