A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

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Author’s website
Publication date – March 12, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Thoughts: At first blush, this book could be taken for a mid-grade horror novel. And while  suppose an argument could be made for it being such, it’s more of a powerful story about loss and acceptance, coming to grips with terrible realities and how things aren’t always what they seem.

And here’s the twist: the true monster of the story is not the one that’s visiting Conor. The true monster is never even named. But it’s painfully obvious what the true monster is, nevertheless.

It’s very hard to write a review of this book without mentioned serious spoilers, or else sounding incoherent like I’m having a fandrogyne moment. But I’ll do my best.

The plot centres around Conor, a young boy from the UK in a lousy situation. His father has remarried and moved to America. His mother is very sick. He feels alone and friendless and endlessly stressed out about his mother and the pity he’s receiving for her and he longs, very much, for life to be normal.

And then a monster comes for him. A monster with many names, who has worn many faces through history, and he comes when people have need of him and call him. As the story progresses, the monster tells Conor 3 stories, each seemingly straightforward but all with a twist that makes Conor frustrated yet gives him a chance to examine things from a new and unexpected angle. As Conor’s mother gets sicker, the monster makes his own demands on Conor: a story of his own, one of complete truth, and something which terrifies Conor in ways he can’t fully express.

This book is a fairy tale for those in a hard situation, and cathartic for those who have experienced deep loss. I challenge you to read this and not shed tears, whether for Conor’s loss or a loss of your own. This is something that will resonate with anyone who has struggled with grief, and Ness’s writing prowess and storytelling ability shines as it conveys the difficult truths of life and death. I have read books about loss before. I have even attended grief counseling. But I have never before seen something like this, something that cuts to the heart of the matter so simply and poetically.

This isn’t a book where I can just say, “I recommend this to [group of people].” It’s a book that I think should be read by everyone, young and old. You’ll close the book and come away changed, you’ll endure every emotional up and down that Conor endured, you’ll empathize with all sides and understand all perspectives presented. You’ll step back a little sadder, a little wiser, and more than a little blown away at the complexities that life gives us all.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)