Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: 2013
Number of Pages: 205 pages
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Children’s Literature
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting, the one from the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming….
This monster is something different, something ancient, something wild. And it wants the truth.
Patrick Ness has developed quite the reputation in children and young adult fiction with his vivid and surreal depictions. In spite of my aversion with young adult fiction, my experience with his works gave me a different perspective of the said genre. Admittedly, I have read only one of his works, The Knife of Never Letting Go. Nevertheless, it got me immersed in the narrative that I immediately bought the second and third installments of the trilogy it was part of (Chaos Walking). But he has one work which I have taken particular interest in.
I first came across Ness’ A Monster Calls when I saw the trailer of the book’s movie adaptation. It instantly caught my interest, hence, I endeavored to purchase a copy of the book. My curiosity multiplied further when I read a background of the book; what I read tore my heart into pieces. I can barely keep my anticipation that I included it in my 2018 Top 20 Reading List. Here are my thoughts.
“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”
A Monster Calls recounts the story of Conor, who was the only child of a separated couple. On his pre-teenage years, he was coping with the pressures of school, his resentment of his father and his grandmother, and the most heartbreaking of them all, his mother’s illness. Since his parent’s separation, it was his mother who raised Conor alone. In the midst of the maelstrom which has taken precedence over his young life, something not too unusual, but unexpected nevertheless, happened.
“Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?” ~ Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls
A monster, a kid’s biggest nightmare, appeared before Conor at seven minutes past midnight. Conor was initially scared and taken aback. It was a surprise but unbeknownst to him, and deny as much as he wants, the monster simply heeded Conor’s call. The initial visit was followed up by another one that it became a regular interaction between Conor and the monster. Every night, at exactly 12:07, the monster visited Conor, to inculcate lessons that will teach him how to accept the realities of life, in spite of his age.
Acceptance of loss – that is the simplest way to sum up the narrative which Patrick Ness has weaved. It is upon this profound premise that Conor’s story revolved, it is a very sensitive topic because it involves a child who is coping up with a lot of pressure from all fronts. Lest the people around him forget, he is yet but a child. He is trying to keep it together, keeping his composure, just how a child will. There is one thing that is keeping him up and running – his mother. Unfortunately, it seems that luck is not on his side as his mother is slowing fading out into the moonlight and Conor is desperately hanging on to every thread of her life that he could. But instead of helping cure his mother, the monster is doing one thing that Conor did not expect.
The monster only has only one perplexing purpose. To attain it, he related to Conor three different stories with three varying morals. These three stories within the story are fascinating and enchanting and is the monster’s creative way of teaching Conor – he is after all a hardy child, stubborn and hardheaded. Conor is at the stage of his life where his emotions are starting to form. The monster, in his own way is willing Conor to accept the realities, to grow up. Whilst the monster is guiding Conor through the maze of his emotions, he was not rushing Conor, rather, he was like a patient teacher who was dealing sensitively to his student.
Aside from coping with loss, the story also dealt with a myriad of subjects, some of which are staple young adult subjects (e.g. bullying). It also dealt with more mature subjects such as hypocrisy, marriage, separation and betrayal. These subjects were utilized as tools to help Conor to grow up. From the onset, the reader could easily glean the pall that is hovering over the story. this bleakness, rather than hampering the reading experience, gave it a more realistic complexion, although that might sound ironic considering that the story involved some elements of fantasy. It was written in such a nostalgic manner that you could feel rain pitter-pattering on the roofs of London.
“Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.” ~ Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls
The story is very heartbreaking – everybody loves children and everybody wishes that they won’t end up on the short end of the stick. Unfortunately, it is not always the reality. Children all over the world, like Conor, are part of broken families. At young ages, they suffer losses of their parents, forcing them to mature. But coping with losses is always a challenge, heck, even adults are having difficult time doing such. A Monster Calls somehow reminded me of Katherine Paterson’s The Bridge to Terabitha because of the premise and the approach of the story.
The journey towards coping with loss is the story’s most meaningful aspect. With every step of the journey, the monster guided Conor – from the denial stage until the acceptance stage. Conor conjured the monster who patiently bequeathed its wisdom to Conor, a wisdom that he did not want to hear but needed to nevertheless. The last scene was powerful yet heartbreaking and I wish I was there to comfort Conor, to tell him that he doing fine. When Conor stopped denying, he was swept by a vivid display of emotions. It was beautiful and painful, the perfect catharsis of emotions befitting the story.
Although the book wasn’t originally conceptualized by Patrick Ness, he was nevertheless able to give justice to the story. The way he navigated through the strange alleys of the sensitive subject is nothing short of brilliant. It was sincere and magical at the same time. His writing and storytelling prowess elevated Dowd’s idea. His laconic and profound passages are easy to grasp. Just in case you are wondering, Siobhan Dowd, who originally conceptualized the story, is a fellow Carnegie Melon Award winning author who passed away due to cancer even before she could start writing A Monster Calls.
“There was once an invisible man who had grown tired of being unseen. It was not that he was actually invisible. It was that people had become used to not seeing him. And if no one sees you, are you really there at all?” ~ Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls
Overall, I had a grand time reading A Monster Calls. Its morose subject is really gut-wrenching. Although it involved a massive amount of fantasy, its touch of reality can never be denied. The narrative flowed and so did the emotions. I am truly astounded by this laconic work but broken at the same time because of its back story. To every Conor in the world, I know this is no comfort to you, for now, but eventually things will work themselves out. Yes, life can be mean, it can be unfair and monsters are lurking in every corner but muster the courage and learn to be brave.
Recommended for fans of graphic novels, for readers who are devout fans of young adult and children fiction, those who are into monsters and nightmares, those who like reading fantasy, those who want short reads, those who are fans of Patrick Ness and those who are looking for a different approach to young adult fiction storytelling.
Not recommended to the faint of heart, to those who dislike fantasy and young adult fiction, those who hate books with dark subjects, and those who are looking for light and pleasurable reads.
About the Author
To learn more about Patrick Ness, click here.
“She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” ~ Patrick Ness on Siobhan Dowd, in the Author’s Note to A Monster Calls