Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Low Fantasy
My Rating: ★★★★
A Monster Calls’ Connor O’Malley has one such skeleton. He tries to keep it concealed while dealing with a hurricane of unfortunate events: his divorced mother is dying of cancer, his relationship with his grandmother is getting out of hand, his classmates are bullying him, and his father is living with the new wife. Because of this, Connor becomes angry, desperate, and too world-weary for someone so young. He doesn’t have any form of shield when his qualms attack him.
And you know what they say: we create our own monsters when we let our worst fears clobber us. The “monster” comes for Connor in the form of the yew tree in their backyard. He stays unafraid however, as he has seen worse things, like the “falling” nightmares that haunt him often. But the Monster seems to know what Connor keeps inside himself. It brings three profound stories and says that by the end of the third tale, Connor must tell a fourth, which should be “the truth.” Would Connor be ready to verbalize it? Would he have the guts to kick the closet door open and let the raw reality out? Would he be able to finally let himself—and anyone shackled by this truth—free by uttering the taboo words he so wanted to let out?
Patrick Ness is a name omnipresent in every YA shelf that I check. From all the accolades I heard are festooning his works, I expected him to be a force to be reckoned with. And indeed he is. A Monster Calls, the first from his oeuvre that I picked up, is the kind of literature that speaks of the harshest realities without appearing to be a tome of cruel pessimism. It’s a children’s book that’s so grownup that adults are guaranteed to get a bulky amount of substantial inspiration from it; it’s an adult book that has a heart of a true kid, making it accessible to both the young once and the young ones. It’s honest and raw in a way that doesn’t damage the soul. It refuses to be put under one label or genre; it’s a work of art that just is.
A Monster Calls is many things, really. It amazes me how so much truth about human nature can be condensed in such a thin novel.
Ness developed the book from the original idea of Siobhan Dowd, an English author who died of breast cancer before she could write the whole story. Sometimes I wonder if it would have the same effect on me had Dowd wrote it, but in the end I knew that it was both Ness and Dowd that I read. Clutching that knowledge to my heart has somehow magnified the novel’s power on me, I guess. Dowd had everything from a detailed premise to plot points to characters. What she lacked was time, and Ness made himself an instrument to fill that in.
Teeming with well-developed characters and studded with life lessons we should imbibe to the last drop, A Monster Calls is one of those books that don’t need thorough analysis. It bares its treasures for everyone to see the moment you get past its flyleaf.
Four stars for a stunning read.