A Monster Calls

Winner of the 2012 Carnegie Medal | Winner of the 2012 Kate Greenaway Medal | A 2012 Bram Stoker Award Finalist

Written by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay, Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd

One night when Conor can’t sleep for fear of his recurring nightmare, a monster (the yew tree on the hill behind his house come alive) comes to his window and speaks to him. But Conor just doesn’t care that much about the monster, and tries to ignore it. How can you be very scared of a monster when your mother is recovering from cancer, and the unspeakable nightmare that keeps you awake at night is a hundred times worse than a talking yew tree? In A Christmas Carol style, the monster persists in talking with Conor, informing him that he will return several times and share three stories with him, and that then Conor must share with the Monster his story, his secret truth. Conor just can’t care too much about the monster’s storytelling game, though. He has to keep the household up while his mom convalesces from chemotherapy, and he has to deal with a school full of kids that totally ignore him, except for one bully named Harry that notices him only to torment him. But it seems there are monsters everywhere, and even a little bit of the monstrous growing inside Conor himself.

This is an incredible, heart-wrenching book, and feels like an instant classic of British children’s literature. There is a spare, poetic, fairy tale-ish quality to the writing, and a satisfying mix of the surreal and fantastic with the gritty and realistic. It is a genius mix that explores fantasy horror within the context of the realistic horrors of everyday life. The erie illustrations are an incredible addition to the text and make this a beautiful physical artifact (some of their pervasive, integrated effect is lost in an electronic version). Accessibility-wise this book is perched right on the border of middle grade and young adult; or perhaps it is a true “ages 12 and up” book. I’m not sure specifically and personally what child I would recommend it to, but for a few kids out there it will likely be one of the most important books they ever read. The book does not shy away from dealing with the realities of grief and death in a young person’s life, and may be a great book for a young person dealing with serious issues in his or her life. It is also an extremely interesting play on the horror and fantasy genres, and would provide much to discuss in a language arts classroom setting.

Review by Joshua Whiting, Granite District Library Media Program
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 6 and Up


A Monster Calls
Written by Patrick Ness, Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd
Candlewick Press
206 pages
Release Date: September 15, 2011
ISBN: 9780763655594 (hardcover)

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11 thoughts on “A Monster Calls”

  1. This story looks intense and very interesting. It would be a great addition to our library for the upper grades.

  2. Sharon P. Christensen

    I was intrigued by your comment, Josh, that it might be the most important book that a few students kids will ever read. Thanks for a very well-done review. Stansbury Elementary would love a copy for our older and more mature readers. Many of our kids are intrigued by anything that suggests a frightening story.

  3. Valley Junior High students would love this book. They have enjoyed his other books (and so have I) including “The Knife of Never Letting Go.” We have students dealing with death often and this might reach to them.

  4. Debbie Solberg

    We too have several dealing with death right now, for one reason or another. It might be the book they need to read. Looks like a great addtion we would love to have here.

  5. Vala'dee Tanner

    Every reveiw you write makes me want to read the book. Rosecrest would love a copy of this one, too.

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