A dying parent, a walking yew tree, and a scared teenage boy. Three stories and one final truth. My colleagues have been telling me about this book for a while, and their students have been raving about it as well. Yesterday I finally sat down to read the story of Conor, a teenage boy in England, who struggles to accept his mother’s illness. He’s been supporting her as she’s been sick, but when his grandmother shows up to help out and his father flies in from America for the first time in six years (leaving his second wife and baby), Conor does not want to face that she may not be getting better. While this might be classified as fantasy, it is as real as any non-fiction book in the story it tells.
There is a recurring narrative in this book about the value of stories, which I find compelling.
- “Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”
- “Stories are important…They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.”
- “Stories are the wildest things of all. Stories chase and bite and hunt.”
- “Stories don’t always have happy endings.” This stopped him. Because they didn’t, did they? That’s one thing the monster had definitely taught him. Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn’t expect.”
While I read this as an adult reader, and I could see where the story was going, it struck me as a valuable text for readers in today’s teenage audience. This book emphasizes that the world is not black and white, it is gray. The monster tells Conor: “There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”
Beyond the text itself, the images are haunting and powerful. Black and white illustrations are peppered throughout the text, depicting important scenes and creating a striking tone of foreboding. This book won’t take you long to read, but the story will stay with you for a long time.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary for PCTELA
Added comments from Allison, Executive Director
Reading Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls had a profound impact on me. The images included in the text – deep shadows and vivid detail – are haunting in a way that is both beautiful and disturbing. I used this text as a read aloud with my 7th grade students, and it spurred discussions of loss, coping strategies, and writing techniques that are used to draw in an audience. Some of my students debated whether the book should be considered fantasy (there really was a monster) or realistic fiction (Conor was suffering from a psychological break due to the severe stress of his impending loss).
The Author’s Note in the beginning that describes Patrick Ness’ initial hesitancy to finish writing from Siobhan Dowd’s notes is also fitting once you read the full novel. He did Siobhan’s original ideas justice. It is a beautifully written and illustrated text, and it is holding it’s own as one of my favorite books!