What does a person say after finishing a novel like “A Monster Calls?”
To be honest, it’s hard for me to put into words an eloquent answer for that. At some point in every person’s life, whether young or older, they’ve lost someone or something they’ve loved so much that it feels like the world is about to come crashing down at any moment. Being able to reach a point where you can grieve and come to terms with that loss is no easy task, and yet, “A Monster Calls” seems to explain the process in a masterful way through one boy’s experiences.
The story revolves around 13-year-old Conor O’Malley. His mother is dying of cancer, but he’s reluctant to accept it as such, holding onto the measure that his mother will get better even when the treatments she undergoes don’t seem to be helping as promised. Everyone around him seems to notice it, and while bullies pick on him, teachers seem weary of him, friends are careful to avoid him, Conor seems to think that no one actually sees him beyond the grief of his situation.
In addition to a recurring nightmare that isn’t revealed until a good measure into the book, Conor’s visited by a shifting monster at 12:07 each night, where the creature tells him three tales and expects Conor to tell him a fourth at the end of his account. The tone is sometimes dark while others are darkly humored (I’ll admit in a few of the side exchanges that Conor and the monster had, I chuckled quite a bit), but it offers a bit of a fairy-tale parallel for the stages that Conor seems to go through.
The tales help Conor to cope with things around him, even when the dynamic of his family seems to shift in preparation for his mother taking a turn for the worst. There’s a powerful resonation between the tales that Conor hears, and ultimately having to come to terms with the thing he fears most in his nightmares – being able to release his grief. This comes across in some powerful images and displays through the work.
I thought Patrick Ness did a wonderful job in the shaping of this story, as inspired by Siobhan Dowd’s work that she wasn’t able to finish before losing her battle with cancer. Albeit a brief read, its one that hits home the impression that dreams are often keys to ways of interpreting our reality and building upon ourselves to be stronger in the pursuits we have in life. It comes as story that I would indubitably recommend – beautifully written, poignant, and resonant.
Overall score: 5/5