Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled.Stories chase and bite and hurt.
This one certainly does. A Monster Calls was originally an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately died of breast cancer before being able to execute it. The story was taken on by Patrick Ness, and I can't think of a more perfect match. He's not afraid of letting his reader feel anguish, and is quite good at bringing one to tears over the injustices of life. He felt a rush of panic, his guts twisting.
This is how you'll feel throughout the book. Ness fills his reader with an aching dread as the story moves toward it's inevitable climax. Conor, his parents, grandmother, friends, and teachers all struggle with how to handle Conor's mother's illness. Ness writes so well here about the awkwardness, the embarassment of suffering and how hard it is for people to handle it. And then he gives us hope. The medicine of the yew tree can heal her. It could've saved the parson's daughters. This is why the monster has come. He will save Conor's mother. Ness gets the reader to start believing this along with Conor, while trying hard not to want it too much, superstitiously believing wanting it too much could make it not happen. Ness is not afraid to prod your emotions, open your wounds. You know deep down she's going to die. But still you hope.
The setting is perfect. The monster, a giant yew tree, lives in a graveyard next to Conor's house. He comes to Conor at 12:07 at night, the darkest time. How perfect that the monster should be a tree. Who hasn't been afraid at night of the shadows of branches falling on a bedroom wall, limbs scraping against the house, or the rustle of leaves on a windy night, the groaning of a bending trunk ?
Great characters. Conor is a well-written 13 year old, a mix of child and teen. A scared boy, who is also angry and sarcastic and sullen. After Conor, I felt most bad about Harry. There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.
I found him to be a lost soul,wiser in a way than the others, struggling with his own demons as he tried to wrest Conor's secrets from him. Only Harry knew that Conor wanted or needed to be punished for what he was thinking and feeling about his mother. What does Harry want to be punished for ?
This book is brilliantly written and is sure to become a classic in dealing with issues of grief. Warning: you will cry. More than once.