A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (2011)

monsterA moving and heartbreakingly honest modern fairy tale.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up; maybe older for sensitive readers

Pages: 216 (for ISBN 9781406311525)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, (light) horror, drama, British import, Europe (England), Kylie’s Favorites

Tone/Style: mysterious, sad

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: monsters, fables, ill parents

Themes: being honest with oneself, death, acceptance, grief and loss, denial, change, moving on, family

Summary:  The monster showed up just 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… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Twice Carnegie Medal-winning Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself, beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults, and the only book to win both the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Fans of sad, emotional books will love this. There’s an atmospheric folktale-like vibe that should appeal to a lot of readers (though these readers might be tricky to identify; I’ve never had a kid tell me they’re looking for something “atmospheric”). But I feel this book puts genre preferences aside by being so strongly evocative of universal emotions. I’d recommend it to most middle school readers.

Who won’t like this book?: I probably wouldn’t give this to a kid with a sick parent (though I would recommend it to readers as bibliotherapy several years after losing a parent). It’s emotionally raw, and may be tough for sensitive readers. This is a sophisticated story, and some readers may fail to understand all its nuances. It won’t necessarily appeal to the traditional fantasy and horror crowd, since it’s quite different from most books in those genres.

Other comments: I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS BOOK!

Phew. Now that I’ve got that out of my system… This is fantasy but achingly real. While many books romanticize illness, this one evokes the true despair of having a dying family member. It also admits to some of the more shameful feelings that can arise. I’ve noticed that people who have lost parents seem to respond especially strongly to this book. The illustrations are gorgeous; make an effort to get an edition with them in it. (I inherited a few copies of the non-illustrated paperback edition when I built my library’s middle school collection, and I actually weeded them all and got new copies with the pictures.  They are a must.)

Sequel(s):

Readalikes: This is a tough one. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is similar both in tone and in its focus on death. Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is creepy and atmospheric, and involves fables and ghosts. Really though, A Monster Calls is one of a kind. The day I find a true readalike will be a happy day indeed.

-Kylie Peters

Image: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8621462-a-monster-calls

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