I have experienced equal quantities of dread and delight whilst anticipating A Monster Calls, a novel which is the joint venture of two highly acclaimed authors of YA fiction. I've been dreading it as it will be my last experience of the wonderful writing of Siobhan Dowd who died in 2007 aged 47. Siobhan was the author of four brilliant novels, two of which were published posthumously and she had penned some notes for a new book which culiminated in Patrick Ness taking the baton and producing the thing of beauty which is A Monster Calls.
So was it to be a Dowd or a Ness novel, whose influence would be felt the most? To tell the truth, it's different from anything either author has produced before. Yes, I felt Siobhan's touch at times but this really feels like a one-off, an original masterpiece. In just over 200 pages, Patrick Ness weaves the tale of Conor O'Malley, a 13 year old only child who has a battle on his hands. His single mother is nearing the end of her fight with cancer and Conor has a well meaning grandmother whose good intentions only end up estranging him further. His father has remarried, now living in the US and is in the clutches of a jealous new wife complete with new baby and he hardly wants the added troubles of his teenage son. Meanwhile, at school, the only people who really notice Conor are the bullies - everyone else is busily tip-toeing around the elephant in the room/playground. If that wasn't enough, a monster comes a-calling, in the shape of a yew tree - yew trees are symbolic of everlasting life and healing but this particular specimen doesn't seem very friendly.
This is one of the most powerful, compelling books I have ever read. If you have ever experienced bereavement or even have the slightest human interest in other folks' emotions, you will adore A Monster Calls. Its simplicity and lyricism is perfectly balanced by the stark black and white illustrations by Jim Kay. You must get the "real" hard back edition, not the "pretend" e book version, this is a book which has to be caressed and treasured. It's a harrowing read, brutal in its honesty, never veering into mawkishness. I have a feeling that Siobhan's novels will have a much deserved renaissance with a whole new influx of readers and I, in turn, must pick up Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy which has languished on my bookshelves for long enough now...
This book is stunning, from the very first peak of it right through to the last word. Even pulling away the postage packaging left me awestruck at this beautiful book, with it's atmospheric hard covering and illustrations. Reading it is no let down either and while a short story at just over 200 pages, every single word made an impact and by the time I'd finished the last page I was an emotional mess.
A Monster Calls is based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd. Having never read anything by either Dowd or Ness before (something I have now sworn to resolve) I had no preconceptions about the book at all, nor any idea what it was about. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I got. A dark, heart breaking tale of grief and loss, entwined with ancient mythology and a journey of facing the truth as well as your fears. It's powerful, stunning, achingly sad and genuinely spooky, because the monster in this story is one we could all face.
Reviewing this book is difficult, because I really don't want to give anything away, not even a small detail for fear of taking away from someone else the experience I had while reading it. I can just urge you all to add it to your wishlist, pick it up from the library, anyone from age 10-100...just get hold of a copy. Recommended a million times over.
on 5 May 2011
If you are not aware about how this book came to be, then please keep reading. The original idea for the story belonged to Siobhan Dowd, who died of cancer in 2007, her premature death prevented her from finishing the book. This would have been her fifth book and she left behind the characters, the idea behind the story and the beginning of it. The story was handed over to Patrick Ness to complete.
I have yet to read any of Siobhan Dowd's books, so I cannot compare the story to her style of writing; having said that Patrick Ness has stated that he did not write the book attempting to mimick her voice. He took her legacy and wrote it in his own unique style.
I was one of those readers who absolutely loved The Chaos Walking Trilogy and I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book. My initial response was amazement as it really is a thing of beauty. The cover, the design and the drawings created by Jim Kay, just bring this book into a complete category of its own. I cannot stop staring at it. All the illustrations are in black and white and they just add to the haunting nature of the book.
The story itself is an unbelievable roller coaster of feelings that rips your heart out and leaves you emotionally in tatters by the end. Never has a story affected me so much that I still want to cry over it two weeks after reading it. I am not sure if I am happy with Patrick Ness's ability to make me cry so often. This is the second time he has written a book that has left me as a blubbering wreck. ( Manchee! I say no more!). He is just an amazing author whose words leave me speechless.
On being introduced to Conor, the main character of the book, you will instantly want to take him into your arms and wipe away his tears, praying that you can make it all better for him. The alienation he suffers at school, is heartbreaking, yet so realistically true and I have seen it happen so many times. He is singled out as being different because of his mother's illness. No one wants to talk to him about it, they just want to talk about him. Why is it when someone is suffering from a life deteriorating disease, we feel the need to talk about them and their family, rather than speaking to them directly? Can we not deal with human frailty? This book makes you look at your own responses to terminal illness.
I can remember being Conor's age and witnessing older members of my family suffering in a similar way, so I can understand Conor's difficulties in coming to terms with his feelings over the whole situation. His guilt must ring true through every one's minds when dealing with a long term illness of a loved one.
The monster in this book is really quite exceptional and I can't say anymore for fear of spoiling the story. He evoked strong emotions within me.
The book is rather deceiving and very clever disguised, as on viewing the cover, I was expecting a book completely different to the one I read. I was expecting a rather dark Gothic tale full of horror, and yet what I received left me with dread as it was just so real and so true. It was a beautifully written, poignant, gut wrenching read. That is all I will say on the matter as I don't want to be the one that spoils it for you. You have to read it. If you read just one Young Adult book this year, then make sure it is this one.
For any teenager or even adult suffering from grief, this is an ideal book to help you come to terms with your feelings. An enchanting book that takes your breath away. The concept, the style, the words and the illustrations - all just stunning.
One of the hardest things to come to terms with whilst reading the book, is dealing with the fact that the story came from a truth. Siobhan Dowd wrote her ideas and storyline whilst undergoing chemotherapy, so it will bring tears to your eyes as you realise she knew how the story would end.
On reading this book, be prepared with a box of tissues. Be aware that Conor's story will stay with you long after you put it down.
When I first saw the book in Waterstones it was the cover that immediately drew me in. A dark charcoal black sketch of a creature approaching an isolated house under an oppressive night sky. Whatever story that inspired such a vision had to be worth it. But the eye candy, dour as it may be, does not end there as there are dozens of atmospheric sketches throughout the pages, all of them by illustrator Jim Kay, which really enhance the otherworldly tone of the story.
Conor O'Malley is a young teen who is struggling to cop with bullying at school, deliberately alienating his female best friend, and believing that his dying mother will get better. Out of the shadows comes the monster, a giant being who takes the form of a yew tree on the hill beyond Conor's bedroom window. At first the monster seems threatening but there is a purpose behind his menace which Conor must understand after putting aside his anger and despair.
Published two years after the death of Siobhan Dowd, the original author, this novel was completed by Patrick Ness who assembled it from her notes and outline. It's unclear what is her original work and what Ness has conjured up to fill in the gaps but the metaphysical angle is mildly disappointing. After plowing through so many of Tim Bowler's metaphysical stories about troubled teens I was hoping for something a bit more literal - yes monsters can be literal too. In the end the impact of the story is none the worse for it and the ending is just as hard-hitting as it was intended to be.
There are many reasons to check out A Monster Calls - the artwork, the story, the story behind the story, it's unusual journey from conception to the print. Even if this type of fiction is normally outside of your interests I fully recommend this novel to everyone.
As a grown adult who remembers quite clearly and deeply the trauma and hurt of being a child who lost a parent to slow moving cancer I reacted to this book with dismay. It trivializes virtually every aspect of the experience, at least from a real world point of view.
The book is a fine and moving fiction. It is clever and in some ways insightful. It is well paced, well written and has just the right air of fable and the fabulous. It does capture parts of the experience, but without the nuance or complexity. In order to maintain dramatic tension it simplifies and makes shallow the intentions, motivations and actions of all of the characters. This may make for a powerful story.
BUT, I have read a number of reviews that conclude that this book somehow realistically reflects the feelings associated with the childhood loss of a parent. At least to me, it does not. Not even close. More importantly, there seems to be a current of feeling to the effect that this would be a wonderful book to gift to a child who has suffered such a loss. I would think long and hard before doing any such thing.
This is a very self-conscious and fairly superficial tale, a work of art and fiction, not a self help book.
Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
on 5 May 2011
There will be lots of readers eager to read this book; fans of the late (and much missed) Siobhan Dowd and also fans of the very popular Patrick Ness. No-one will be disappointed.
I have read and loved all of Siobhan Dowd's other books and although I don't know how much of the story she drafted before she sadly passed away, her voice is very clearly to be heard in this story that Patrick Ness has completed and presented to the world. Patrick Ness's contibution is very obviously, but you can't see the join!
Your heart will go out to Conor, the hero of this story and I think Conor really is a hero. Life has not been kind to him thus far; he is bullied at school, his father has left the family and now lives in the USA with his new wife and daughter, his mother is being treated for cancer and, unsurprisingly, he is having nightmares. He needs a friend, but not Lily who he thinks has betrayed him, not his father who reappears briefly from the States calling him `Buddy' or `Sport' and not even his un-grandmotherly grandmother who is also struggling to cope with her daughter's (Conor's mother's) illness. One night a monster appears at the bedroom window. The monster doesn't really seem to be helping very much at first, but as he tells his stories and encourages Conor to confront the dark thoughts he is hiding deep, deep within himself, this troubled young man begins to find the courage to face the future.
Take time to really look at Jim Kay's wonderful and powerful illustrations as they add a whole new dimension to this already stunning book.
on 9 August 2011
I got back to my apartment in Bulgaria and thought I'd read a little bit of this novel before I went to bed. 2 hours later I was still sat in my original position but by this time I was sobbing my heart out. Literally sat there crying like a baby to myself. I doubt this book will be everyone's cup of tea but, whatever it has, it really worked it's magic on me.
I thought A Monster Calls was pretty much amazing in every way; from it's darkly beautiful illustrations (worth buying a paper copy for) to the great big touching metaphor that is the backbone of the story.
Didn't like The Knife of Never Letting Go? Not a problem. Forget it's by the same author whether you liked his previous books or not. Pretend you've never heard of Patrick Ness before because this is nothing like anything he has ever written. It's nothing like anything I've ever read. Where the Chaos Walking trilogy was a fast-paced adventure story, this is a very moving, well-written tale of a boy who's mum has cancer. It's about loss, and that doesn't necessarily mean death, and it's also about learning to let go and forgive yourself and others around you.
Think you've got it? Think you've worked out that the 'monster' is going to be cancer itself? Think again.
Like I said, this is a very different sort of idea (credit to the late Siobhan Dowd) and not the kind of book where you can guess where it's going. It's odd and unpredictable and very sad. Conor is one of those tragic but believable characters that you feel for all the way through. He faces constant battles in every aspect of his life. There's the obvious problem of his mother's illness, but also the fact that his dad has moved to America to start a new life with his new wife and baby. School offers no escape from Conor's miserable reality either as he finds himself between bullies who pick on him because they can and teachers who make their pity obvious every time they talk to him.
Then one night a monster visits Conor. A dream? An ancient creature that appears to those in need? Anything is possible, none of which is important. This monster is here for one purpose... to tell Conor three stories in exchange for the truth. Conor begins to learn that things aren't always as they seem and right and wrong are not so easily defined.
I loved it. It was nothing that I expected but I hope Siobhan Dowd's idea will inspire Patrick Ness to write more like this.
on 26 May 2016
I first came across this book while talking to my mum. She told me about how it was being turned into a film and it seemed like a weird fantasy thing I'd like.
The advert for the movie caught my interest, who doesn't love monsters? So I found the book cheap.
And let's just say for such a short read I was not expecting such powerful emotions to come out of it. I'm usually a shut off person, not shedding tears for books or movies. But by god did they threaten to spill more than once while reading this book.
Little Conor is going through so much, and pretty much alone as he looks through the world with innocent eyes and his mothers encouragement. Meet the monster that becomes a guardian in a sense. Teaching him what he needs.
With such power in the little book I'd recommend it to anyone! Although it seems like it's advertised for young readers. It would seriously depend on the child's maturity.
But five stars, for giving me a story that will stay with me for life.
on 14 February 2012
The genesis for the latest novel from Patrick Ness came from some notes left behind by the late author Siobhan Dowd. Patrick was asked if he wanted to take her idea and complete it and he did so deciding to "Run with it. Make trouble." We should all be glad he did.
The books protagonist is Conor O'Malley, a 13 year old boy whose mother is suffering from cancer. His best friend Lily spread the news around his class making him a target for bullying, and now he is fighting a stress war on two fronts at home and at school. He has been having a recurrent nightmare and is then visited repeatedly by a monster at night transformed from a yew tree in the back garden
The book reminded me initially of both 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens and 'The Savage' by David Almond, the latter dealing with similar themes. As it progresses the novel comes entirely into its own and makes itself extraordinary.
There was so much about the book I felt was true. I loved the depiction of Harry, the bully, intelligent enough to realise that ignoring someone and pretending they don't exist is a far worse torment than punches or insults. I experienced that in my own youth, any teenage girl can tell you how effective it is. I remember at its height trying to make myself invisible, making sure I didn't put my hand up for questions I knew the answer to, hiding in loos in between lessons. Conor's experience was very real to me. Thinking of it me trying to make myself invisible was ridiculous as I was anything but inconspicuous.
I have read opinion online that this book is 'too scary' for young people. The people who say this are wrong and have a rosy tinted view of what childhood ought to be without sight of what childhood often is. Children in 2011 are far more worldly wise than we would give them credit for, and some have experienced far worse things than a children's book could ever depict. I, for one, think it's admirable to find a young adult book that isn't overly saccharine and sanitized with clean, smiley resolution. They are becoming more and more rare as publishers take less risks. Certainly if it helps any child deal with issues of death and grief and others to understand that experience that can only be a positive thing, and particularly if they find elements of their own story reflected within.
A particular favourite part of this book for me was the monsters stories, neither black nor white, characters with both good and bad in them. I think too often with children or young adults simplistic thinking is encouraged, exact definitions of what and indeed who is right and wrong rather than viewing the world as it exists in multiple shades of grey.
I have to say that this book made me cry. It is the first book since 'Home' by Marilynne Robinson to do so and therefore it is in good company. It didn't just make me shed a few moved tears either, but it made me actually cry proper noisy tears that made me cover my face with my hands. My grandmother, who was much beloved by me died of cancer when I was 21 and there was a certain moment when I identified with the emotions of Conor so much that it took me straight back to her bedside and made me relive certain experiences. This book deals with the truths of grieving in a way that Didion's 'Year Of Magical Thinking' does not come close to reaching.
I think 'A Monster Calls' is a wonderful book and any book with the power to move someone in the way it did me has to be extraordinary. The way in which it poses interesting moral questions at young people leading to the revelation that it does is something special. In a recent email to a friend I suggested she read Patrick Ness and called him 'probably the best writer of young adult fiction writing today' This book does nothing but back this assertion up. 9.5/10
on 4 September 2011
A very moving and completely un-sentimental book. I'd never heard of either of the writers but very craftily executed (I'm no expert but still...) with a big plus being that the writer doesn't moralize or pretend he can explain the situation. To an extent the book merely describes with great sensitivity what the boy is going through and how he responses to the pressure he's experiencing in these gravest of circumstances. Utterly believable throughout and at no point compromised by over-emotional wallowing.