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Book Review: A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (2011) is to be released as a major motion picture directed by J. A. Bayona later this year. In the lead up to this star studded film, featuring the likes of Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones, this article looks back at Ness’ young adult masterpiece.

A Monster Calls tells the tale of thirteen-year-old Conor as he struggles to deal with his mother’s deteriorating cancer. Conor is a troubled and isolated boy, who endures the same nightmare every night ever since his mother fell ill, but one night, he is visited by a monster, a frightening and tenancy, wild yew tree.

“Stories don't always have happy endings" the Monster tells Conor. The Monster continues to visit Conor, telling him three parables, through the telling of these stories, Conor is left unbalanced, but not afraid, as he already fears and anticipates something far worse. The folktale stories each hold a moral lesson and raise provoking questions for both Conor and the reader.

Although the book includes the supernatural, it is incredibly realistic. Conor's brave and stoical mother has tried a host of treatments including health foods "which tasted as unhappy as it looked", her teenage son observes dryly, while Conor soldiers on, attending school. The book has a razor sharp melancholy as it cuts through to the bleak and dismal days Conor has to endure at school, facing bullying from some children and stilted sympathy from teachers, his detached relationship with his father who makes fortnightly calls and his difficult grandmother, while he waits and hopes for a miracle for his mother. This realistic angle draws the reader in the reader even more. In the end, Conor has to face his demons and admit the trust that he has been trying to avoid: to stop wrestling with the unthinkable and unbearable heartache of losing his mother. Through the visitations, Conor learns some valuable lessons that help him with the challenges he knows he must eventually face.

“Conor held tightly onto his mother. And by doing so, he could finally let her go.”

Not only is this novel beautifully written, it’s also resplendent for the superb black and white illustrations by Jim Kay. The illustrations are part of the very fabric of the book, which seem to flourish and grow out of the page, like the monster himself.

Original, haunting and heartbreakingly sad, this story of hope and letting go, will take you to another world, make you wonder and think, but above all, make you weep!

Written by Lauren Noding

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