This very special story is a kind of collaboration between two very fine authors: Siobhan Dowd of Bog Child, The London Eye Mystery, and Solace of the Road; and Patrick Ness of The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men. In his author’s note Ness writes of Siobhan Dowd: “This would have been her fifth book. She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” Siobhan Dowd died of breast cancer before she could write her story. Ness also writes that he feels he has been “handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, ‘Go. Run with it. Make trouble.’ So that’s what I tried to do.” And Ness did it beautifully, honestly, insightfully, skillfully, and with a whole lot of heart. All through the book, Jim Kay’s evocative black and white illustrations were made with everything from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures.
A Monster Calls is Conor’s story, living in the house he’s spent all his life, along with his mother who is dying of cancer. The story begins: “The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.” Both Conor and the monster are intriguing in their banter: “Already taller than Conor’s window, the monster grew wider as it brought itself together, filling out to a powerful shape, one that looked somehow strong, somehow mighty. It stared at Conor the whole time, and he could hear the loud, windy breathing from its mouth. It set its giant hands on either side of his window, lowering its head until its huge eyes filled the frame, holding Conor with its glare. . .’I have come to get you, Conor O’Malley.’” Conor responds, “Come and get me then. . .I’ve seen worse.”
The relationship—the back and forth between monster and boy—changes and develops in a rich and believable way as Conor comes closer to facing the thing he fears most, the thing the monster wants—the truth. The monster tells him three stories which Conor doesn’t understand the significance of, initially. And the monster tells him that the fourth story will be his to tell.
What Ness reveals and what he doesn’t reveal make this book hard to put down. He explores the creative ways a child copes and the frightening moments when he just can’t cope. He allows Conor his rage and pays homage to a child’s conflicted feelings and the alienation he feels from others and from themselves under the shroud of a dying parent. And yet Conor is enough of a survivor to summon what he needs, even during this most horrific time in his life. Conor has summoned the monster. Richly woven, deeply moving story that I will read again and again, even knowing the tears will come.
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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