Review Blog

Dec 01 2016

A monster calls by Patrick Ness

cover image

Walker Books, 2016. ISBN 9781406365771
(Age: 10+), Highly recommended. Death. Cancer. Nightmares. Fear. Bullying. School. Hospitals. With this new collector's edition, published to coincide with the film's release in 2016, extra material is included, making this a larger heavier tome than its first publication in 2011. Interviews with the cast, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDonald, extra material from Patrick Ness, Jim Kay and producer, J A Bayona, stills from the film, extra graphics from Kay, all add to the luxuriousness of the book.
I read it from cover to cover, poring over the illustrations and stills, reeling again at its impact. The story of one family, particularly the lone boy and the effect of his mother's cancer, will stop readers in their tracks as they read the tale, augmented by the most emotive of illustrations. This is a marvelous publication and will ensure a dedicated following of the book and forthcoming film. My review written in 2011, follows.
From the start, the creeping menace of the Yew tree outside Conor's window invades the imagination of the reader. The amazing illustrations by Jim Kay storm through the book, evoking the shadow world that the monster lives in, paralleling the world now inhabited by Conor as he tries to care for his mother. The threat evoked by the malice of the monster's presence is palpable, but Conor derides its ability to make him cower in fear, as he knows something far worse. He has lived with his nightmare for a while, waking at 12.07 each night with a thuddering heart and sick dread. His mother sometimes stirs from her own disturbed sleep, vomitting in the basin, or awake with the aftermath of chemotherapy.
In this phenomenal tale begun by the late Siobhan Dowd, and written by Ness, we are treated to a superlative horror story, one that will ensure that word of mouth impels its speed around any group of young people from 10 to 15. Fenced in by the cancer which affects his mother, Conor finds that he is invisible at school, his one time friends avoid him, the bullies eventually giving up on him, bringing his resentment to the surface. All the time, the monster calls at 12.07, telling his stories which impel him to action. His destruction of his grandmother's front room brings no respite. Beating up the bully, finds only compassion from the school, not expulsion. Everywhere he turns he is pitied, not punished, and it is only with the last story that the monster makes him understand what he has kept hidden from everyone else as well as from himself.
Death makes its way into every family and this is the story of how one boy deals with it in the most extraordinary way, transferring his feelings to the Yew Tree outside the house, using it as a prop for his emotionally charged life, coping with an absent father, a grandmother he does not care for, and ultimately his dying mother. What began as a horror story, pulling in the reader through its breathtaking illustrations and storytelling, ends as an acceptance of the reality of death and the coming together of the boy and his mother.
Fran Knight

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