Obviously, A Monster Calls came to me HIGHLY recommended from friends with great taste. That’s always exciting, but also a wee bit terrifying. What if I don’t like this book so many people told me was absolutely amazing? What if I have to be the black sheep, sounding my disgruntled, lonely bleat across the book blogging world? Buuuut, thankfully, that’s not an issue, because I definitely see why A Monster Calls has gathered such acclaim.
From the first few pages, the ultimate point of the novel was obvious to me. For younger readers, it could conceivably be a twisty ending, but I think most adults will see where things are headed. This is, however, not a bad thing. There’s a lot of value in the telling of the story, and it’s not meant to be a shock. In fact, I think the knowing what’s coming and hoping for something else is the emotional response which Ness hoped to evoke. The reader’s journey mirrors Conor’s.
On the surface, A Monster Calls is a fantasy horror novel. The opening scenes fit that mold perfectly as young Conor awakes to see a monster approaching his window. The yew tree across the street forms itself into a humanoid shape and comes to Conor. Having seen a worse monster, Conor’s not afraid, even when this new monster destroys his bedroom and brings Conor toward its monstrous mouth.
The horror scenes form a captivating hook, luring the reader into a story of surprising depth and sadness. What soon becomes apparent, however, is that A Monster Calls is not actually a horror novel, or at least the horrors involved are ones of a real life existence, the horrors of cancer and bullying. As his mother battles cancer, Conor steps up to help keep the house clean and himself fed. He’s supportive and loving, fearful that his father in America or his grandma will try to take him away.
The dreams, which affect his reality, help him cope, even without his realizing. He runs through the phases of grief, aided by the monster. It’s magical realism at its finest. I especially loved the tales the tree told and the way that the morals of the stories were never what Conor expected. Real life doesn’t fall out into neat scenarios like fairy tales do, and Ness exhibited that so clearly with this construct.
Accompanying the sparse but powerfully evocative text are gorgeous illustrations, like the one above. Jim Kay’s illustrations fit the novel impeccably, and bring the novel to the next level. While A Monster Calls without the illustrations would still be powerful, the illustrations bump it up to epic and will help cement the story in the reader’s memory. They’re beautiful, creepy, dark and haunting.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The only reason I didn’t rate A Monster Calls any higher is that I didn’t really connect with it emotionally. Yes, friends, I’m a robot. I did not cry, though I did feel sad for the kid. Actually, I think I came closest to crying reading Ness’ note about Siobhan Dowd at the beginning. There you have it. I’m emotionally-stunted and failed to get all of the feels from this that I probably should have. Oh well. I suppose I also would like to know a bit more about Conor’s life at the end, but I can see why it ended where it did.
The Final Verdict:
So yeah, if you haven’t read this one yet, you should probably get to it soon, especially since it’s so short and easy to sneak into your reading piles. And, should you be softer-hearted than myself, you might want a box of tissues at your side.