Children's Literature · Modern Fantasy · Review

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness | Book Review

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Inspired by an Idea from: Siobhan Down

Illustrator: Jim Kay

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Pub. Date: 2011

Genres: Magical Realism, Middle Grade

Pages: 206

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Twelve-year-old Conor O’Malley must come to terms with his mother having terminal cancer and what that means for him. He’s an independent boy who has had to take a lot responsibility during his mother’s illness and after his father left them. He also has to deal with a strict grandmother and bullies at school. What sets all of this in motion is an old tree that hunts him down and forces him to face the truth through storytelling. The movie adaptation of A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, convinced me to read the novel, and both are beautiful.

I liked the movie and book enough to say that I think each medium was better than the other at telling certain parts of the story. For example, Conor’s father is someone that I didn’t like, and I found myself cheering on Conor for his commentary more in the movie than in the book because the movie presented it in a stronger way. Another example is that certain motifs and symbols, such as one specific time on the clock, are starker in the book than in the movie.

Conor is a responsible and independent kid who gets bullied at school. He’s had to take on all of these responsibilities since his mom started getting treatment for her cancer. He draws, like his artist mother. He has to deal not only with his mother and grandmother but also the kids at school who are generally cruel. He is in denial about what’s to come, but he also has a secret wish. Conor also shows an example of it being okay to be angry and to grieve.

The tree is an intimidating figure in the novel. It’s more than his appearance. The tree does his own scary things that understandably scared Conor. This tree figure tells interesting stories that make Conor and the reader think.

Jim Kay’s illustrations are black and white and graphic. I like how he draws the scenery and the monster. I love how his illustrations wrap around the story and contribute to the text. Every image is perfectly placed. One example is in the chapter called “The Second Tale.” The image on page 99 (below, left) shows a building reminiscent of a house or factory, and the monster says, “Factories grew on the landscape like weeds” (Ness 99). A few pages later, the story continues by introducing the first character. The monster says, “Here he comes” (Ness 103), and the man on page 102 walking toward the text where that is said (below, right). It’s stunning storytelling when the author and illustrator work together like this.

I cried through the last fifty pages of this novel. I knew from watching the movie what would happen, but it took me by surprise. It gave me a good cry.

This is a good, thoughtful, emotional story. I highly recommend this specific edition because of the beautiful illustrations that are well-placed and done, and they will remind you of the movie.

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