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A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd Hardcover – September 15, 2011
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Profoundly moving, expertly crafted tale… a singular masterpiece, exceptionally well-served by Kay's atmospheric and ominous illustrations… tackles the toughest of subjects by refusing to flinch, meeting the ugly truth about life head-on with compassion, bravery, and insight.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
There’s no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it’s also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place — an imperfect one, of course — where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous storyteller and a potent piece of art.
—The New York Times
A nuanced tale that draws on elements of classic horror stories to delve into the terrifying terrain of loss. . . . Ness brilliantly captures Conor’s horrifying emotional ride as his mother’s inevitable death approaches. In an ideal pairing of text and illustration, the novel is liberally laced with Kay’s evocatively textured pen-and-ink artwork, which surrounds the text, softly caressing it in quiet moments and in others rushing toward the viewer with a nightmarish intensity.A poignant tribute to the life and talent of Siobhan Dowd and an astonishing exploration of fear.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A brilliantly executed, powerful tale.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
Ness twists out a resolution that is revelatory in its obviousness, beautiful in its execution, and fearless in its honesty. Kays artwork keeps the pace, gnawing at the edges of the pages with thundercloud shadows and keeping the monster just barely, terribly seeable.
—Booklist (starred review)
A masterpiece about life and loss that will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned.
—Library Media Connection (starred review)
The heavily textured monochromatic illustrations are silent screams, rendering Conor's inner chaos palpable with dense shading and jagged edges symbolizing the wildness within while shifting perspectives alternately create intimacy and distance, like the push and pull he feels as he tries to stay engaged in an impossibly painful situation… Emotionally wrenching, this draws truth across pain in a way that is accessible to middle-school readers.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.
—The Horn Book
Patrick Ness is an insanely beautiful writer.
The power of this beautiful and achingly sad story for readers over the age of 12 derives not only from Mr. Ness's capacity to write heart-stopping prose but also from Jim Kay's stunning black-ink illustrations. There are images in these pages so wild and ragged that they feel dragged by their roots from the deepest realms of myth.
—Wall Street Journal
The monster is a brilliant creation — part giant, part yew tree, destructive, didactic, elemental...The book has the thrills and ambition you would expect from the author of the Chaos Walking trilogy...Ness, Dowd, Kay and Walker have rifled death's pockets and pulled out a treasure.
Featured/recommended on Oprah's 2012 Kids Reading List
An honest, heart-wrenching story that moved me to tears.
—John Boyne (author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas)
About the Author
Patrick Ness is the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling Chaos Walking trilogy. He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he lives in London.
Siobhan Dowd spent twenty years as a human rights campaigner for PEN and Amnesty International before her first novel, A SWIFT PURE CRY, was published in 2006. She won the Carnegie Medal posthumously in 2009 after her death at the age of forty-seven.
Jim Kay studied illustration and worked in the archives of the Tate Gallery and the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, two experiences that heavily influence his work. His images for A MONSTER CALLS use everything from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures. Jim Kay lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
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You know how you come across a book, and after reading it, you feel like EVERYONE needs to read it as well? That is how I felt with this book. As a mother, this book ripped my heart to shreds, and put me in an emotional state as I was reading it to my sons. But it was worth every tear I shed. Guys, if you haven't read this book, Do it! The story, the writing, the illustrations, this book was pure perfection and a total 5 out of 5 stars for me.
If you have read this, what were your thoughts?
A narrative about the truth and knowledge contained within stories and their inherent ability to empower us, Ness’ novel tackles the experience of youthful trauma with sensitivity, poignancy, and grace. It’s the first of his novels that I’ve read, but it certainly will not be the last.
Conor has been terrorized by a recurring nightmare of late, and when the Yew tree from outside his window comes to life, the Yew tree monster is, relatively speaking, a welcome relief from the much more dire scene that confronts Conor nightly in his nightmare. The Monster informs Conor that it will tell the boy three stories over multiple nights, and when it is done Conor will be required to return the favor by telling the Monster one true story in return. The book plays out with the monster telling Conor stories as well as encouraging the boy to act out to release the building tension that threatens to destroy him. All the while, the story builds toward a moment of reckoning. The idea of repressed rage building into a monster of its own is central to this work.
The book is generally classed as “low fantasy”—a genre in which a limited supernatural element barges into an otherwise real world story. However, it can arguably be read as more psychological in nature. When the Monster visits, Conor finds evidence of his presence— e.g. leaves and berries—but to my recollection no one ever sees such evidence besides Conor, and so the reader is free to view these clues as harbingers of a descent into madness.
The book, itself, has an interesting backstory. Apparently, the idea came from Siobhan Dowd, a writer of children’s / YA literature, when she had cancer. Patrick Ness was brought in after Dowd died to take her characters and premise and turn them into a book. Ness completed the book, which was made into a film a couple years back.
I’d highly recommend this book. It builds and maintains tension throughout the story and is highly readable.