When I began reading A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd), I didn’t know what to expect beyond “magical realism.” I just wanted to read it before the film adaptation comes out in December. What I found was a story that, at it’s core, is all too common – middle-schooler Conor facing the monster of a parent dying of cancer, the sad truth that this cannot be changed, and the need to continue living anyway. But Conor gets a little unusual, if misunderstood, assistance from an evil yet helpful monster in the form of a man-eating Yew Tree.
A Monster Calls is beautifully written in its simplicity and reminded me of a similarly told tale of a kid, a monster, and a parent with cancer: graphic novel I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly. So much so, that I knew right away where Monster was going and how it would end. But it didn’t matter. Just as it didn’t matter with Giants. I still cried a little. I still felt all of Conor’s intense yet somehow numbed feelings. I still wanted to knock around all the grown-ups in his life who were not giving him what he needed. And I still sighed with sorrowful relief when the fantastical monster helped him to finally face the real monster with bravery and truth.
Dowd began A Monster Calls before she died from breast cancer in 2007. Ness was asked to take her outline and craft his own version of her story. I don’t think it’s groundbreaking or even especially unique in its subject matter or telling. But I think it is a story that must continue to be told and Ness has done so with great care, poignant prose, and genuine love. It is worth the quick read and it is worth doing so with a middle-schooler who is going through this battle or knows someone who is.
Sarah Parker-Lee writes YA alt. history & sci-fi. Managing co-editor of Kite Tales, book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, & content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, she’s also available to edit your novels & writerly endeavors. Her humor blog, Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, shambles towards your tasty brains Winter-ish 2016. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel