A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness- The True Meaning of Grief

I have been reading a lot of Patrick Ness‘ work lately, the Chaos Walking trilogy was exceptional and More Than This was certainly another thought-provoking book, it  had a poor ending unfortunately but was a great read nonetheless. A Monster Calls by Ness is a terribly sad and cruel book but deals with the raw human emotions one would feel with a dying parent.

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Ness was asked by the family of deceased author Siobhán Dowd to complete the book based on the manuscript Dowd had started before passing away from cancer. The young protagonist in the story Conor is going through the turmoil of watching his mother die slowly and painfully before his eyes from cancer.  Conor has other worries though, he is visited frequently by a horrific monster outside his window most nights. The monster is both a hindrance and a help to young Conor and he struggles to see if the ghoul is real or is it just simply the manifestation of his troubled mind. I loved guessing whether the monster was real or imaginary in the story, it never becomes clear but it fades into insignificance as the book draws to the end. The monster flips from being both friend and foe depending on it’s humor,this lead to an edge of uneasiness in the narrative which kept one guessing.

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The book is dark and desperately sad. It is a compelling read as it takes the form of a fairy tale, the monster tells three stories in the book which are entirely unconventional stories which are supposed to teach Conor some meaning in his battle with grief. However, the stories are cruel and puzzling, I enjoyed this aspect of the book, I also felt that the book really dealt with the true emotions of death, not the typical Hollywood style grief. Conor is not heartbroken, nor does he mope around and feel sorry for himself. He is angry and embarrassed. He hates the attention of being the only child of a sick mother. He hates feeling different. As harsh as it sounds, he is almost relieved by his mothers death in spite of loving her as much as any son would.

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

The book is short, it could be easily read in an hour or two, the illustrations in the book by Jim Kay are haunting and powerful. They are some of the most moving pictures I have seen in any book. The monster is enormous and grotesque, the pictures are dark and grainy. The illustrations underlines the enormity of the burden Conor feels as he stumbles through the story.It really added to the book. A Monster Calls is a book every person who grieves should read. It is also a book I would recommend to a teenager or young adult who is experiencing the loss of a parent or an ill relative. One could not have but a heavy heart when finishing this book.

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14 thoughts on “A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness- The True Meaning of Grief

  1. I have been wanting to read this book for a while but have been unsuccessful in finding the right edition as I really loved the look of the pictures. I love Ness’ work and I am going to look for this book first when I next go into a book shop. Great review by the way.

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  2. It’s definitely a hard subject and a well done book. I wonder if I’d recommend it to anyone facing a death or recently having lost somebody. Maybe best pondered when we’re not struggling with death so closely.

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  3. Thank you for sharing such a well-written review. Two of your lines match especially well with my feelings regarding this text:

    “They are some of the most moving pictures I have seen in any book.” — These images will remain with me! I would hang them as art in my home if I could (although I guess that’s a little dark!).

    “The monster is both a hindrance and a help to young Conor and he struggles to see if the ghoul is real or is it just simply the manifestation of his troubled mind.” — One of my favorite parts of using this book as a read aloud was getting to debate this issue with my students. I always leaned toward a manifestation of a troubled mind!

    – Allison, PCTELA Executive Director

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