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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 225 pgs.
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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which was our October book club selection, is a deeply emotional book about loss and guilt and letting go. Conor O’Malley is 13, but his burdens are great as he cares for himself the best he can while his mother clearly ill from chemotherapy. She is barely able to wake up and move about. At school, his life is gray and the only color he finds is in his encounters with the bullies at school because they provide him what he wants — punishment.

“It swung him out of his room and into the night, high above his backyard, holding him up against the circle of the moon, its fingers clenching so hard against Conor’s ribs he could barely breathe. Conor could see raggedy teeth made of hard, knotted wood in the monster’s open mouth, and he felt warm breath rushing up toward him.” (pg. 8)

It is a deeply atmospheric novel in which the gray and black emotions of Conor permeate all that goes on.  The Monster who visits him each evening tells him three stories, and Conor expects them to teach him something, but what Conor must learn is something he can only teach himself through experience.  The Monster, however, is not his recurring nightmare.  And the Monster, though fearsome, seems to be the darkness inside him and not an actual monster.  We all carry monstrous emotions and we try to keep them hidden — sometimes even from ourselves.  Through magical realism, Ness has created a tale for teens and adults alike that will ensure they look inward and assess their own pain, guilt, and loss in a new way.

Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all.” (pg. 67)

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is deeply affecting.  Readers will long feel the sorrow and the heaviness of this one, but it is darkly humorous in parts.  While one of the monster’s tales is a bit muddled, it could be attributed to the 13-year-old’s imagination in how it fails to fully parallel the other tales.  Ness is a crafty storyteller, and his Conor is every boy ever deeply impacted by loss, abandonment, and other dark emotions.

RATING: Quatrain

What book club thought?

Everyone at the meeting liked the book very well and really felt engaged with the narrative and Conor’s emotions.  The biggest debate was whether the monster was a real entity or in Conor’s mind.  It was interesting to listen to the theories that members had about the individual tales the monster told and how they paralleled Conor’s predicament.

About the Author:

Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Crash of Hennington, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.

He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London.

  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    Glad you all enjoyed discussing this one!

  • bermudaonion(Kathy)

    I loved this book and can see how it would make for an interesting book club book.

  • Suko

    I’m glad that you and your book club enjoyed this timely book!