Review on “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness


I recently purchased and finished “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness and it has undoubtedly become a favourite that I shall keep. One of my goals is to renovate a room in my future abode into a personal book room with tall shelves and chesterfield armchairs and sofas..♡

Leaving that aside, if you are already considering on buying yourself this wonderful collection of words I would recommend first of all that you choose the illustrated version by Jim Kay, especially if you’re visually minded like myself, it’s worth the extra couple of pounds (a budget challenge I know as well by now as an averagely paid 18 year old woman girl can honestly tell you).

AUTHOR’S NOTE : I never got to meet Siobhan Dowd. I only know her the way that most of the rest of you will – through her superb books. Four electric young adult novels, two published in her lifetime, two after her too-early death. If you haven’t read them, remedy that oversight immediately.

This would have been her fifth book. She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.

When I was asked if I would consider turning her work into a book, I hesitated. What I wouldn’t do – what I couldn’t do – was write a novel mimicking her voice. That would have been a disservice to her, to the reader, and most importantly to the story. I don’t think good writing can possibly work that way.

But the thing about good ideas is that they grow other ideas. Almost before I could help it, Siobhan’s ideas were suggesting new ones to me, and I began to feel that itch that every writer longs for: the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story.

I felt- and feel – as if I’ve been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, “Go. Run with it. Make trouble.” So that’s what I tried to do. Along the way, I had only a single guideline: to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked. No other criteria could really matter.

And now it’s time to hand the baton on to you. Stories don’t end with the writers, however many started the race. Here’s what Siobhan and I came up with. So go. Run with it.

Make trouble.

Patrick Ness

London, February 2011

The book is in dedication to Siobhan Dowd whose books, unfortunately for me, I have not yet read and have added to my forever growing “to read” list. Patrick Ness is an American-born british author, journalist and lecturer who won the annual Carnegie Medal from the British librarians both in 2011 and in 2012. Fun fact: He is one of seven writers to win two Medals (no one has won three) and the second to win consecutively.

“A monster calls” tells the journey of a quiet boy named Conor O’Malley whose mother is dying of cancer and struggles to cope with everyday life and communicating with his family such as his strict and controlling grand mother and distant father who now lives in America with a new wife and baby daughter. He is also the victim of school bullying and the ever more apparent loneliness he suffers despite the efforts of one side character called Lily. Ness has the talent like numerous other authors by indirectly giving us a seemingly shallow but as a matter of fact, profound perspective into every character’s life by slowly introducing them to the reader without straying from the main plot. For example in the middle of the book, the strain is starting to snap within Conor and during “The Second Tale” from the Monster he demolishes his grandmother’s living-room.

“She took away her hands, balling them into fists, opened her mouth wide and screamed. Screamed so loudly Conor did put his hands up to his ears. She wasn’t looking at him, she wasn’t looking at anything, just screaming into the air.

Conor had never been so frightened in all his life. It was like standing at the end of the world, almost like being alive and awake in his nightmare, the screaming, the emptiness-

Then she stepped into the room.”

Re-examining this small section, which ends unexpectantly Ness presents us with a mutual understanding of severely pessimistic emotions between such two contrasting personalities reminding us that one event can easily set off others who get too close.

Through the book we wonder what the monster really represents, is it simply a figment of Conor’s imagination? No, this is proved otherwise by the leaves, berries and tell-tale marks left behind but then, because Conor removes all evidence of this, we ask ourselves again, are these trademarks part of his imagination?

The yew tree is the most important of all the healing trees, it said. It lives for thousands of years. Its berries, its bark, its leaves, its sap, its pulp, its wood, they all thrum and burn and twist with life. It can cure almost any ailment man suffers from, mixed and treated by the right apothecary.

This was such a fascinating read for me that I got often got sucked into the story and forgot about the real world, so much so that I almost didn’t notice we had a guest in the house while I was reading. By the end of the book, Ness had powerfully churned and provoked so many emotions inside of me that I physically cried with tears streaming down my face on the last page.

It is a beautifully written tragedy which I have connected to because my boyfriend lost his father to cancer at a very young age. Reading this story has given me an even further insight to his childhood struggles and the reasons behind his past anger, I now not only feel closer to Patrick Ness but I also have a better understanding and stronger admiration for my boyfriend having survived such loss so early. Everyone can learn something from this book if you look between the lines, and the most amazing thing of all is despite it’s horrific appearance (magnificently portrayed in monotone borders and splashes), he gently teaches the moral of this tale like a mother would to her child.


3 thoughts on “Review on “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness

    • Thank you! I’m new to WordPress and haven’t done a book review before but this one struck a cord with me in more ways than one. I loved your post, very fluent and informative. In response to your question, I’m not sure, I’ve been mulling over whether to recommend/lend it to him as I mentioned it subtly as one of my new favourite reads (he is also an avid reader, but an incredibly speedy one too), but he hasn’t shown a particular interest in it and I don’t feel it to be in my place to force a book like a therapeutic medicine on him. What I find more important is that I gained a better understanding, no matter the size, of how it must have felt. Of course, I have occasionally asked him the odd question or two and he’s always been very open about his father. We’re both 17/18 now so it’s been nearly 10 years since his father passed away. Perhaps I would recommend “A Monster Calls” to a child going through the same situation, but then there’s the constant reminder of imminent death and it’s one of those debatable questions on whether the moral use of this book would be for their benefit. I think this is why it would probably be more recommended to people like me, who are the close beings such as the character Lily to those suffering, and how to respect their needs and emotions.

      • Yes very true, you have to pick and chose which person it could be of benefit too I suppose. Poor Lilly, Conor was awful to her I thought but it was understandable! It’s a nice blog, I’m only new myself, enjoying it!

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