Thoughts on “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness

I recently purchased a book at the bookstore called, “A Monster Calls”. It is written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay. The book is based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. What first attracted me to the book was the front cover artwork. The artwork throughout the book is dark, raw and emotional. Illustrator Jim Kay was the illustrator for the Harry Potter books. His illustrations in “A Monster Calls” really invokes the feelings of this book, which I found were sad and scary. The story idea originally came from the mind of Siobhan Dowd. Ms. Dowd was an English children’s author. Unfortunately, she passed away from cancer in 2007. Patrick Ness was tasked with completing her story. The story is about a 13 year old boy, named Conor, who is trying to cope with the impending death of his mother. We enter the story after the mother has been battling her cancer for quite some time. Both mom and son have a glimmer of hope which begins to fade away as the mother’s illness progresses. The teen is finding it difficult to cope with his mother’s terminal illness, an absentee father, a grandmother who he cannot seem to get along with, bullying at school and a recurring nightmare about a monster. One night at 12:07 midnight a monster does come to call but it isn’t the one from his dream. This one he is not scared of, this monster is the walking, talking yes tree from his backyard. The tree is an ancient being full of magic and mystery. It says it has come to tell the boy stories, but insists the last story will be shared by the boy. Is the yew tree there to help the boys dying mother through it’s magic or it’s medicinal properties or is it there for another reason entirely? This tale left me sad but enchanted. While the storyline is indeed sad it is told in a magical and imaginative way. I believe that this story would truly help a teen who is dealing with grief. This story seems to be a bridge between the fantasy of childhood and facing the reality of mortality and loss that some young people have to face much to early. Ultimately the story is about letting go. As someone who lost my own mother to cancer when I was 8, I can understand all the feelings expressed by our young main character. The feelings of bewilderment, anger, guilt and sadness. I can understand the need to turn to the fantasy and imagination of childhood to cope. The reader can also hear Ms. Dowd’s voice and feelings on her impending death throughout the book. This YA novel should be on every teacher’s, counselor’s and child psychologist’s reading list. This book is tailor made for bibliotherapy. There was a movie made by the same title, but the book is better. Also, make sure you read it with tissues.

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