A short review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness(illustrations by Jim Kay, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)

By Michael McLendon

Though it’s been out for a few years, A Monster Calls is getting a lot of attention lately due to the upcoming film. I’m glad it’s getting all this attention because, as it turns out, it’s excellent.

Before I sum up my thoughts for the book and why I think it is worth a read I must mention the beautiful layout and illustrations. It has all the care  and craft that a children’s book might though it’s a bit longer and perhaps more mature. Jim Kay completely keeps us in the world of the story and helps us feel what Conor is feeling in perfect concert with the text.  

The Monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. 

Like any great book for any age, Ness’s writing doesn’t talk down to any reader. He uses simple language and keeps it moderately paced in a way that makes every line feel purposeful. And line by line we’re drawn in to a story about stories.

This is where the short tale could seem ponderous or self referential in a bad way, but the stories within the story serve such a great purpose both in revealing character and in progressing the plot that we don’t feel cheated or “on pause” in the slightest. As Ness codifies in his introduction these stories “make trouble”. 

Another place the book succeeds where it might easily faulter is with its young and emotionally troubled protagonist. We receive this story through his point of view and it’s heartbreaking and intimate without being maudlin or melodramatic. I think it’s because A Monster Calls is primarily about a character in conflict with pain not just a character in pain. 

And I really don’t want to say too much more about this short novel. It’s a book that can be read in probably the time it will take me to get to Manhattan from Queens, see the movie, and return home, if not faster than that. And yet I’m very glad that I had this experience of reading the book and viewing the illustrations in a reader’s isolation. It serves the story well because we all have felt alone with grief, no matter our age.  Stories are one of the best ways to escape and reflect and react to our grief.  We can then connect. We can move forward. We can live the wildness of our own story. 

“Stories are the wildest things of all.”

-the monster 


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