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A quality Young Adult Novel that will not dissapoint and will stay with you long after you have read it.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, based on an original idea by the novelist Siobhan Dowd. Who lost her own battle with cancer before she could write the story. A Monster Calls is in many ways a typical example of contemporary children's literature of the genre that tackles hard hitting issues. Yet, although the genre is based on realism and current times the book also incorporates myth and fantasy together with folklore and the supernatural. Illustrated throughout with stunning drawings by Jim Kay the book also falls into the Picture Book genre. A Monster Calls the first book to win both the Carnegie Award for outstanding writing and the Kate Greenaway Award for illustration and did so in 2012; it also won the Galaxy National Book Award in 2011 and the Red House Children's Book Award in 2012.
A mix of realism, fantasy, horror and supernatural with definite Celtic and Nordic influences A Monster Calls tackles its issues with ease and fluidity. Interestingly, however, it is not typical of either Siobhan Dowd's or Patrick Ness' usual styles. In common with many children's books A Monster Calls works on two levels - for those that face bereavement it lets them know that it is OK to be selfish sometimes, OK to want the pain to end, not to feel guilty. If it is not relevant the deeper meaning will probably go straight over the head of the reader fortunate enough to have not yet faced the type of situation it tackles, it will just be a story about nightmares and monsters and trees that talk and come to life. For the child going through anything like the scenario that Conor faces or for those supporting such a child, the beautiful third party narration sensitively keeps the reader close to the protagonist, Conor, yet he is a tense ball of emotion, the reader never getting to know his character, unlike for example Harry Potter, in J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, who the reader soon learns is an orphan and different to ordinary boys.
A Monster Calls begins 'The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.' (Ness, 2011, p 11). Straight in, no scene setting; no character building; straight into the crux of the story; instantly grabbing the attention of the reader. A Monster Calls is full of suspense; there is plenty of drama in turning the page, the scene as well as this eagerness to turn the page is further set by Kay's moody illustration, which captures the suspense and the fantastical elements of the story brilliantly. Conor's nightmares began shortly after he learns of his mothers diagnoses of cancer. The reader learns on the first page that his father is absent and that Conor is being brave for his mum; that he feels alone. The invisible boy who wants to be visible, the visible boy who wants to be anonymous. Conor does not want the attention, the pitying glances, he kicks back at authority; he is singled out by the bullies and lashes out at the one child who tries to help. All the time not facing up to what is really happening to his mother.
As a contemporary children's story A Monster Calls fits current trends well, serious life issues are tackled in the last twenty years in a way that children's fiction would not have done previously.
Siobhan Dowd won the Carnegie medal with Bog Child in 2009, three of her four other published books A Swift Pure Cry; The London Eye Mystery and Solace of the Road were also novels for children and also tackle difficult subjects, the other was a co-edited book of Romany poems. Dowd's own final book Solace of the Road bares a striking similarity to A Monster Calls in its subject matter; Holly finds her stepmother's oncology wig and puts it on to become a different person, with the wig she becomes Solace, she runs away, thumbs lifts and tries to come to terms with her issues. Holly does so, on her own, luck and coincidence feature heavily and like so many children's books before it, the story is built around a journey. Solace of the Road tackles contemporary issues with flair and insight. The comparison doesn't quite end with the illness, A Monster Calls is all about a boy coming to terms with his mother's mortality; whereas Solace of the Road is about growing up, both have elements of Irish influence and both fit well in the twenty first century teenage fiction genre. Patrick Ness wrote the Chaos Walking trilogy and in common with Dowd, is a previous winner of the Carnegie Medal with Monsters of Men the third in the trilogy. This trilogy falls into the science fiction genre and has nothing in common with A Monster Calls apart from being imaginatively well written by the same author. In his introduction to A Monster Calls, Ness is quick to point out that he never met Siobhan Dowd, but knew and admired her work.
Ness cleverly uses a Yew Tree as the monster in the tale; the Yew has a long tradition in ancient Druid, Celtic and Nordic folklore, many believing that the famous Nordic tree of life is a Yew.
In A Monster Calls, the reader knows the monster is going to call again and like Conor soon realise it will probably be at 12.07. The monster is a monster, he rips open the roof and smashes through the window, so he must be bad mustn't he? 'What do you want from me? Conor said. The monster pressed its face close to the window. It's not what I want from you, Conor O'Malley, it said It is what you want from me.' (Ness, 2010, p 40). Gradually, as the story progresses Conor needs the Yew Tree Monster; he learns something of its healing powers and begs it to heal his mother.
Should be a must read for all practitioners coming into contact with child bereavement, including TA's, SENCO's as well as Social Health Care workers. I am also sure it is only a matter of time before it reaches the Psychology A level wider reading list and then becomes an essential part of the course materials.
NB. All quotes taken from A Monster Calls, Ness P, (2011).
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it's not the monster from Conor's nightmare. It isn't the one that has haunted him nearly every night since his mother became ill and started her treatments. It isn't the one with the burning darkness, the booming noise and the screaming.
It has come to get him, but Conor isn't frightened of this monster. It's different. It's ancient and wild. But it wants something from Conor, something dangerous, the most dangerous this of all.
It wants the truth.
A Monster Calls was born out of an original idea by author Siobhan Dowd. Tragically, Siobhan ran out of time when she was cruelly taken by breast cancer, and the baton was firmly passed to Patrick Ness. Patrick took Siobhan's characters, premise and beginning, and ran with it. Siobhan's ideas suggested new ones to Patrick, and so A Monster Calls came to life; a book he thinks Siobhan would have liked. I think she would have liked it too. I think she would have been proud of what Patrick has produced.
Despite this book being a powerful and moving read, despite it being one of the best books I've read this year, despite being totally absorbed by it, despite all of this... I am struggling to write this review.
A Monster Calls is a moving story, so much so that I was wiping tears out of my eyes by the end of the book. This book has touched me on so many levels and it's one of those rare books which will stay with me. It's a book I won't forget.
I think anyone who has lost someone close or has come close to losing someone close, especially a parent, will connect with this book. A Monster Calls deals with a difficult subject, one which is individually unique to each and every person it has affected, but Patrick Ness has dealt with it very well and in a compassionate, honest, understanding and sensitive way.
It's a story of love and hope, life and loss. There's so much feeling in this book. You might be forgiven for thinking this could be too much for the 12+ readers it's been written for, but I don't think it is. Despite the subject, this story is beautifully and sensitively written.
I won't give it away, but there is something to be learnt from this book. There really is.
I'd recommend getting the illustrated version of this book. It is illustrated completely in black and white and even the illustrations are atmospheric, there's just something about them.
Probably best read on a dark and stormy night... but then again, maybe not. Either way, it's a book that's best read. Despite being heart-wrenching, it is utterly compelling and insightful. Don't leave it on the shelf. Grab a copy and read it, you won't be sorry (but you might need a box full of tissues).
A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Why read this one?
This appealed to me when I read that the premise was that of Siobhan Dowd who was unable to bring these characters to life due to her own life ending after a fight against cancer. Siobhan had passed her concept on to Patrick and told him to bring it to life. The premise was intriguing and the comments from the Daily Mail and Independent glowing. Reviews from others were impressive - I was drawn to this one and was eager to give it a whirl.
Connor is aged 13. A nightmare visits him every night. It has been a regular visitor in his sleep for some time. It is not welcome. The darkness consumes him, the screams frighten him and the falling causes him terrible pain. He has not slept properly since the unwelcome visitor of the night. 12.07 brings with it a new monster one night, though this monster does not instil fear within him - he wants this monster to punish him - why?
The first thing to say about The Monster Calls is that it is a short read. At 236 pages and with large font size the tale is told in a day of reading for most I would think. It is not a challenging read though that does not mean that it is fluffy and light. This prose is powerful and enchanting all at the same time - as I could relate to the theme from personal experience I found reading this book provoked strong emotion.
Connor is developed beautifully. When first meeting him it is soon obvious that he is suffering. He is just thirteen years old but appears to be much more mature as he helps around the house and arranges himself for school. Brief mentions of his mother indicate that she is not well - not just unwell but having treatment for cancer. I identify and empathise with Connor immediately and admire Ness's accurate observations of a person living in 'hope' and 'denial' whilst at the same time 'knowing' and 'hurting' and willing to 'bargain' for their loved ones return to health - for them to stay and not have to leave us. This brought back some strong emotions for me, even though I was not so young when I lost my dad to cancer I can relate to the behaviour of this boy, Connor. He seems to push himself into being upbeat and positive - always hoping for the best outcome and believing, really believing that the next treatment may be the one to 'work'. The one that cures him mum. The one that saves her. The gentle way that the prose flows and the terminology are such that a young adult or adult can read and enjoy this book - lessons to be learned and comfort from wise words are well worth the effort.
The amount of characters is kept to a minimum - close family members and a couple of school members and teachers are all that feature. I believe this is what makes the prose intense and the feeling of being 'alone' and 'invisible' all the more evident and believable. It is realistic as anyone who has experienced this journey will know. There will be some who will not leave you and will support you - but those are the ones that you may vent your anger on. Surprising but true - anger is an emotion that is part of the grieving process and at some point someone will get it. Connor has his Grandma to be angry with - sometimes not really knowing why, she just happens to be available to fill that role. Ness is genius at getting you to see just how much this lady is hurting as she nurses her daughter, Connor's Mum. I see through the charade of stiff upper lip and not making eye contact - I know how she suffers but Connor doesn't - does he? Can he see it? This part of the prose is eloquent, touching and poignant. I could also relate to the feeling of being invisible and Ness has grasped this concept well, he has done his homework. No one looks at or speaks to Connor and he now feels like he has a sign on his forehead that reads 'special' as he gets treated differently by staff and pupils alike. Everyone except Harry and his two cronies who have noticed a difference since Connor's mum was diagnosed - something changed with Connor on that day even though he isn't conscious of acting differently he has caught the attention of the school bully. What an observation in human nature this is. We will never know what it is that tells another that we are hurting, vulnerable or an easy target - but a bully always knows; they have radar that homes in on easy prey. I wouldn't mess with Connor though - at this time he may feel like he needs or wants to be punished (for what I don't know till later) but as with anything things change and when someone is hurting like Connor is it may not be wise to provoke him.
12.07 every night brings a nightmare that is the daddy of all nightmares to Connor. He makes me laugh as he talks himself out of the scenes of the horror sequences by acknowledging that monsters are for babies and as he is thirteen that excludes him. When his new monster comes into his life he will not be able to tell himself it is all a dream for long because leaves, twigs and new trees do not litter the bedroom floor in your waking time? How is this new monster doing all of these things and what does he want? I found the time spent with the new monster intriguing and then finally enchanting. It reminded me a little of the scrooge tale where he is visiting his past and future - only Connor wasn't visiting his past or future he was going to see the monsters history. These tales were not your usual 'happy ever after' and 'here comes the lesson/moral' type either; they were thought provoking and challenged my way of thinking - along with Connor's. The 12.07 was an interesting inclusion and I wondered what relevance this had on the tale. I would find out but the time was not now.
Connor is the main protagonist in this prose, as you may have guessed by now. Ness added meat to his bones in fine fashion as the tale progressed and I found him to be a very likeable young man - I felt incredibly sorry for him to be experiencing what he was at such a young age. I was in my early thirties when I had the hellish experience and it hurt - still does. That is why I have such respect and admiration for this author as I think that he has captured the various stages of the grieving process beautifully - he understands them and knows that they begin when any loss happens not just when a person dies. At diagnostic stage there is some kind of loss - the loss of life as you knew it for one and the fear of future loss for another. Everything that Connor does, his behaviour at school in comparison to his time with his mum, and Grandma, is absolutely believable because grief will do that to you - it can as it has the power. The power in this prose comes from the massive effect that grief and loss have. The pages ooze with a poignant and deep hurt but also there is always hope and belief - if you believe hard enough you are halfway there...aren't you?
I like the inclusion of Connor's dad. A dad that has divorced and left the country to start a new life. Initially keeping in touch and then phone calls and visits drying up. A new wife and baby taking priority - new demands. A forgotten life and a distant memory of a son back in England. A son who hurts and needs his dad. I felt so sorry for Connor when his dad did enter the prose; he was a believable selfish character who clearly had no intentions of taking his son back to America with him if the worst happened. No room I'm afraid, what with the new baby and all! Another loss. The pages are not many in this book but my goodness Ness packed some punch into them. In my opinion this is the sign of a damn good writer - short tale but whole in the fullest sense of the word. This guy has compassion.
My intention was to read a chapter and then the day after enjoy another when I picked up the book. What happened was that I read the whole lot in the course of a day and night. From the first page I was hooked and I didn't read quickly as I wanted to saviour every last word. I was captivated and I wanted to know what happened - yes you can guess but as Stephen King says 'it is the journey that is important and not the ending' although I have to say that I do like a satisfying end to any tale.
The pace of the this book is good for this genre and really it is up to you, the reader, how fast you progress as I believe it could be slowed down or sped up - for me I wanted to slow it down. I actually felt like it was healing a small part of me - the words and wisdom helped to ease the pain of loss.
The end of the book is emotive - let's just leave it at that. It was satisfying and all lose ends were tied up - very neatly. I have witnessed a great author at work. Finely crafted and just beautiful!
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An emotive concept, in a tight knit setting, this prose enchants and captivates all at the same time. Realistic and believable observations by Patrick Ness as he portrays the struggles and fears - as well as guilt - which a thirteen year old boy endures when his mother is diagnosed with cancer. The inclusion of nightmares and monsters makes for a thought provoking and challenging read as you question what is right and wrong. Human nature is exposed at its most vulnerable and is beautiful to see, refreshing and rich. Vivid and powerful. It's only a small book but is packs a punch. Exquisite.
Published on Ciao
I heard about this book just after it was published in May of this year. It is the first book to ever win both the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards and so, as a children's bookseller, I knew I had to take notice. 'A Monster Calls' is aimed at teenagers (generally considered 12 +) but I think could easily be read and enjoyed by both younger and older audiences.
The book is written by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay and adapted from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. Now, when you hear about something that brings together a group of such wildly talented people the expectations are extremely high. Patrick Ness is best known for his Chaos Walking trilogy (which I haven't read but plan to) and has a wide selection of book awards to his name. Jim Kay is an illustrator who has worked for the Tate Gallery and though I am not familiar with any of his other work this book serves as a testament to his incredible skill. And lastly, Siobhan Dowd is a highly acclaimed writer and also the first author ever posthumously awarded the Carnegie medal. This really is the coming together of a spectacular trio and the book well represents their incredible talents.
The reason for the book being written is both interesting and incredibly sad. Siobhan Dowd came up with the original idea for the book during her battle with cancer. She was never able to actually write the book she had planned as she unfortunately passed away in 2009. Patrick Ness was then approached about writing the book using Siobhan's idea, and having loved her writing he agreed. Jim Kay was brought on board to do the illustrations for this magical book and the end product is simply breathtaking.
The book is about a teenage boy called Connor, whose mother is suffering from cancer. When the book begins she is going through radiation treatment for the second time. Her and Connor live alone, his father having moved to America and re-married many years before. Connor has few friends at school and the little contact he has with his peers is either altercations with Harry and his cronies or arguments with Lily who spread the news of his mother's illness. Connor hates the world, and understandably so because he is taking on the role of the adult in his household while still needing to be the child that he is. During the night a monster comes to visit Connor and lays down a set of rules. He is going to tell Connor three stories and in return Connor will tell him a fourth, one that tells his truth. Each story reveals a little more about the monster's purpose to the reader whilst totally perplexing young Connor. As the book progresses so does his mother's illness. Eventually she is taken to hospital and Connor is moved to his Grandmother's house, which he hates. A fly-by visit from his father and frequent 'talks' from both of these adults take their toll on Connor who is optimistic about his mother getting better. I won't spoil the entire ending for you but throughout the book Connor is visited by a terrible nightmare that shocks him out of his sleep. In the final story, Connor's, he must tell the monster the truth about his vision.
The book is peppered by stunning illustration creates by Jim Kay. As far as I can tell these are prints and etchings which are done exclusively in black and white. The effect is beautiful - they have this dark, ominous quality to them which perfectly encapsulates Connor's mood and the visitations of the Monster. Most teenagers I think would be reluctant to pick up a book with illustrations because they seem a little juvenile. However, these are adult illustrations - they are dark and scary and add a whole new level to meaning to Patrick Ness' words.
The books speaks of truth, it emphasises the importance of family and honesty in exceptional circumstances such as Connor's. It also explores the role of teachers and peers in the life of a child experiencing such a degree of turmoil in their private life. The monster represents the need in all of us to deal with out emotional problems and to find an outlet for pain. The metaphor is truly original and insightful - and the writing, though harrowing is truly exceptional.
This book costs £8.99 (although I do get a discount because of my job...) which as far as I am concerned is an amazing price for such a magnificent book. This isn't the kind of book you will be taking to the charity shop after you've read it, this is a simply stunning illustrated edition and definitely something I will keep forever and hopefully return to in years to come.
The message of the book is an important one and the delivery is affecting. I cannot recommend this enough, for children, teens, adults, anyone really. It will definitely be a book you keep for many, many years and one which I will avidly recommend in and outside of work.
A stunning, breathtaking, masterpiece of a book - for anyone, for everyone.