A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, is an inventive story told in tandem of dreams and reality exploring emotional fears through the physical manifestation of literal monsters.
When the clock strikes 12:07 at night, the yew tree in the backyard transforms into a nightmarish monstrosity that comes to Conor’s window, claiming Conor has called him. The monster insists on telling him three tales, in which Conor must respond with a fourth, and the story must equal the truth–not just any truth, but his personal truth, admitting what he sees in his nightmares.
As the story progresses and the tales are told, we discover Conor’s greatest nightmare exists not in dreams but in his waking life–his mother is severely sick and is becoming more and more ill, facing the edge of her own mortality. While battling the prospect of losing his mother, Conor must endure the presence of a grandmother he cannot relate to, and the absence of a father busy building a new family overseas.
Under this stress, the presence of the monster becomes more and more familiar and the nightly visits begin to influence Conor’s behavior. He becomes more and more monstrous and his emotions turn wild, reflecting the chaos of a creature that both motivates and is motivated by fear, until the night he is required to tell his own story where his monster-haunted nightmares and waking life converge.
Though A Monster Calls is built around a framework of fears and monsters, its strength lies in the underlying meditation on what we must endure in the face of surviving the sickness of a loved one. Conor’s story is both sympathetic and movingly recognizable regarding the processing of grief. The writing is simple and somewhat predictable, but the tale offers insight into the seemingly dark emotions of letting go, suggesting the fear of acceptance may be more painful than the anticipation of loss. Illuminated through captivating artwork by Jim Kay, Patrick Ness succeeds in framing a moving tale about love, sickness, understanding our darkest emotions, and what we are truly afraid of.
Review by Gigi, CLP-Brookline