16 May 2011

Review 24: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls is the story of Conor who lives with his mother who is suffering from cancer. His father lives in America with his new wife and their baby son and the only other family Conor sees is his formal and formidable grandmother. A Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Dowd, the author of the Carnegie winning Bog Child, died in 2007 of cancer which lends an extra poignancy to the novel. Walker, Dowd and Ness' publisher, brought the idea to Ness to write the story. Dowd had a concept and the main characters for Ness to work from and the only guidance he was given was to write a story that Dowd would have enjoyed reading. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick when he visited our school last week so I managed to have a chat with him about this and have my copy of this heartbreaking book signed with, 'To Anna, who has already cried.'

When we meet Conor he is dealing with his father leaving and bullying at school as well as his mother being severely ill from cancer. It is clear from the outset that Conor's mother is very ill but they are in the process of trying some new options and redoing various therapies and Conor's mother is constantly reassuring Conor that everything will be okay, always a dangerous promise. His mother has to go back into hospital which heralds the arrival of Conor's grandmother who Conor dislikes and resents for her no nonsense approach to Conor's mothers illness.

To make matters worse, Conor is suffering from a horrible nightmare as well as being visited by a monster that is formed from the majestic yew tree in his back garden. The monster is not scary in the way that Conor is expecting and challenges him that he has come for the truth. The monster tells him various stories which challenge Conor's ideas about right and wrong and show him that heroes and villains aren't as clear cut as he thinks.

The novel is beautifully created; it is not a long read but is engrossing and complicated and wonderful. Conor is so realistic in his approach to his mothers illness and it's heartbreaking to watch him deal with whats going on around him that he has no control over. The monster is spectacular, awe-inspiring and wonderfully realised by the illustrations by Jim Kay. I initially wasn't excited by the illustrations but they add to the story in an active way and some of the whole page illustrations literally made me gasp as I turned the pages. They genuinely add to the story. It's worth mentioning that it is a sad book and if you've dealt with issues like this recently, I'm sure it will be particularly upsetting. However that is a sign of how well written it is and as Patrick said when he visited, if a novel about a boy whose mother is dying of cancer isn't upsetting then he's doing something wrong.

A Monster Calls is very different to Patrick's previous young adult novels, the Chaos Walking trilogy, but just as wonderful. I would highly recommend all of his work. A Monster Calls is a beautiful novel which is moving and involving.

1 comment:

  1. ooh, looking forward to reading this one.