I’ve been reading rave reviews about Patrick Ness for the last couple of years, and finally got around to reading one of his books. A Monster Calls was amazing and completely unexpected. I’m not sure how to review this book so I’ll just recommend that you read it.
The story was originally conceived by Siobhan Dowd, an award-winning author who died of cancer before she could write the book. Ness and illustrator Jim Kay won the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals for writing and illustration when this book was published in 2012. This is the only book ever to have its author and illustrator win both awards.
A Monster Calls is about 13 year-old Conor, who is visited by a monster at 12:07 one night. Conor is already having nightmares, but this isn’t the monster from his dreams. It’s the living, walking yew tree from down the road. The yew tree wants to tell him stories, and then it wants Conor to tell him a story in return.
As Conor watched, the uppermost branches of the tree gathered themselves into a great and terrible face, shimmering into a mouth and nose and even eyes, peering back at him. Other branches twisted around one another, always creaking, always groaning, until they formed two long arms and a second leg to set down beside the main trunk. The rest of the tree gathered itself into a spine and then a torso, the thin, needle-like leaves weaving together to make a green furry skin that moved and breathed as if there were muscles and lungs underneath.
I have come to get you, Conor O’Malley, the monster said…
But Conor didn’t run.
In fact, he wasn’t even frightened. All he could feel, all he had felt since the monster revealed itself, was a growing disappointment.
Because this wasn’t the monster he was expecting.
“So come and get me then,” he said.
Conor’s mother has cancer. He’s not afraid of a giant, scary tree because his life is a good deal scarier at the moment.
If this is a children’s book, it’s not like one you’ve ever read. It reminded me why I love fantasy and children’s books so much – because sometimes, in monsters and magic and storytelling, there is also truth.
It’s also more than a book about cancer. It’s beautiful and devastating. It’s not just about illness and loss, it’s about rage and fear and truth. I can’t say I understand what it’s like to watch the person you love most dying of cancer. But if a book could make me understand, it would be this one.
I’m not going to say more. Except, don’t read this book on a plane – nothing ruins a good cry like sitting two inches from someone you don’t know.