A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a very important book that I wish I had read earlier, and one that I wish I had time to re-read. A month and a half since reading it, I still don’t understand it. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one 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, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.
I read this book based on Hannah Heath’s review.
Okay, I REALLY LIKED this book. It’s extraordinarily well-written; this was my first experience with Patrick Ness, and I see why people rave about him. He really knows how to write, both in constructing beautiful sentences and in constructing a really cohesive, well done story. As an aspiring writer, I’m jealous. But also happy. Yay for good writers! Patrick Ness also impressed me with this story because it was not his idea. The inspiration for this story actually came from a woman named Siobhan Dowd, who died of cancer before she could write the book. (Sometimes I think life has a sicker sense of humor than even the most painful dramatic irony in literature. I mean, seriously?) Anyway, Patrick Ness finished it for her, which as an author must be such a difficult sacrifice. I’m not sure if I could put my little plot bunnies down long enough to publish a story about characters that weren’t even mine to begin with. I hope I could. Basically, Patrick Ness is awesome. All his other books just moved up my TBR.
This story deals primarily with how our young protagonist Conor is dealing with his mother’s terminal cancer. Naturally, that affects him at school, with both friends and bullies, as well as at home, where his dad (who is no longer around) and his grandmother both can’t seem to understand him. Enter the monster. The monster does understand, somehow, and all he seems to want are stories. Conor doesn’t yet know what stories can do, so he agrees to listen to three of the monster’s stories, before telling his own.
Here begins my major problem with this book- the monster’s stories. I LOVE the premise behind the stories and the themes of this novel. In addition to beautifully dealing with grief, particularly the grief of a child, A Monster Calls emphasizes the importance- and danger- in stories. Through the monster’s stories, Conor better understands himself and what he’s going through. These stories don’t skirt away from moral gray areas, either. In fact, this whole book drips these shades of gray. As a concept, I am super excited by this. The point (rather, one of the many points) of literature is to engage our moral sensibilities and challenge us to think about right and wrong, especially from other perspectives. This challenge is often dangerous. The monster says:
“Stories are the wildest things of all… Stories chase and bite and hunt.”
–A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Rarely have I found such true words about a story. But, even if stories don’t provide an answer, I think they should point you in a more defined direction than the monster’s three stories did. The monster feels ancient, and his sense of justice is also ancient. It felt alien. I applaud Ness for creating such a terrible, wonderful monster, but I wanted to understand the monster’s judgements, and I really had difficulty.
Somehow, the ending didn’t get me either. Everyone talks about how this book left them sobbing, and I just wasn’t. I’m not sure why I didn’t connect viscerally. As I may have mentioned before, it’s very hard to make me cry while reading, but I think this book probably should have.
Now, wait- NONE OF THIS MEANS I DIDN’T LOVE THIS BOOK. I DID. I just didn’t connect to it in the way the story tried to demand. This book is on my to-reread list. Maybe then I will feel the pain like everyone else did.
Overall: 4/5 stars
Regardless of emotional pain, this is a very Important Book thematically. Here are a few of the best quotes:
“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”
“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.”
“Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.”
“You were merely wishing for the end of pain, the monster said. Your own pain. An end to how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all.”
“Don’t think you haven’t lived long enough to have a story to tell.”
“You think I tell you stories to teach you lessons? the monster said. You think I have coming walking out of time and earth itself to teach you a lesson in niceness?”
–A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
On a side note, this is definitely a book that you should read in a physical copy. The illustrations, done by Jim Kay, are GORGEOUS. They’re very compelling, and they bring the dark tone of the story to life on every page.
A Monster Calls is also going to be a movie! Liam Neeson is going to play the monster, and I am so excited! You can find the first trailer here.
Has anybody else read A Monster Calls? Did anybody understand it better? Who’s excited for the movie? Tell me what you think below!