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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dark, Compelling A Monster Calls A Ness-Ish Original

(Image from Indiebound)

One of the greatest bookish discoveries I've made this year is English author Patrick Ness. You might recall me gushing about his YA dystopian books, The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men (all of which make up the Chaos Walking Trilogy). Considering my adoration for the man, you won't be surprised to discover that I actually squealed out loud when I learned Ness had a new book coming out. Then I read a little about A Monster Calls. It sounded ... odd. Creepy, but not dystopian. Still, if Ness wrote it, I knew I wanted to read it. So, I did. And, while it didn't rock my world like his other books, A Monster Calls still exudes enough Ness-ish originality to make it both compelling and memorable.

Since the book is so hard to describe and I can't discuss it in detail without being spoilerish, I'll give you the summary from the back of my ARC:

The monster showed up 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 nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming ...

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

I know - it doesn't give you much to go on, does it? Suffice it to say, A Monster Calls is a book about a 13-year-old boy dealing with the shock and grief of watching his mother wittle away from cancer. It's about anger and guilt and sadness and coming to terms with the cruel blows life deals to all of us, even the very young. Conor's a sympathetic character, one whose feelings are so familiar they'll strike a chord with anyone who's ever experienced a loss, be it large or small. The story itself is told in a dark, compelling way that keeps readers guessing, even as it barrels toward a not unexpected ending.

As I mentioned, I didn't love the book like I wanted to. I liked it, though, and found it to be quite profound in its simplicity. Perhaps even more so because the idea for the short novel (novella?) actually came from British writer Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 47. After Dowd passed away, Ness was asked to develop Dowd's story idea into an actual story. Since trying to imitate her voice would have been a "disservice to her, to the reader, and most importantly to the story" (from Author's Note), he told it his own way. Enhanced with illustrations by Jim Kay, A Monster Calls becomes a familiar tale told in a new and different way. With its distinctive Ness polish, it's a book to be proud of, one that pays homage to a beloved writer whose life ended much, much too soon.

(Readalikes: Theme-wise, it reminds me of Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls; style-wise, of some of Neil Gaiman's stories)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of A Monster Calls from the generous folks from Candlewick Press.


  1. I just finished Monsters of Men last night and I loved the entire series! I kept wondering how on earth Ness was going to end it & while I didn't love the very end... I was satisfied.

  2. I've seen a few reviews of this one around, and I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't read any of Ness's other stuff, so I'm curious how this one will play as my first Ness attempt.

    Great review!


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