A Monster Calls
Conor O’Malley is tormented by a recurring nightmare, too terrible to speak about. During the day, he pushes it down because he has a lot to deal with in his real life. His mother is dying of cancer and he’s being pushed around at school. At thirteen, he wants to handle it alone.
Then a voice calls to him in the dark. It’s not the nightmare. It’s a monster, formed out of a yew tree and it has come to tell Conor that the nightmares won’t stop until he admits the truth, the thing he is the most afraid of.
This is the beginning of a dark and serious story about a boy learning how to let go of his dying mother.
The monster explains,
Here is what will happen, Conor O’Malley. I will come to you again on further nights. And I will tell you three stories. Three tales from when I walked before. And when I have finished my three stories, you will tell me a fourth.
Over a period of weeks, the monster visits the boy and tells the stories, each with surprising twists. Meantime, Conor’s daytime life is spiraling. The cancer treatments are not working and Harry at school continues to bully him. When Conor makes desperate and violent efforts to be seen, he hopes being punished will lessen the horrors of his nightmare. But he cannot find relief until he faces the truth. That’s when he can look to the future.
Here’s a book that looks like a children’s book, but is more appropriate for a mature young adult and older readers. The story’s serious nature makes it an emotional experience. Although most reviews are overwhelmingly positive, several suggest that A Monster Calls should not be considered a self-help book for kids who have lost a parent. That’s a personal decision. I think the book is excellent. The monster’s fables tie perfectly into Conor’s story and are terrific examples of the contradictory nature of human thought. A great book for older children and adults.
About the book:
Siobhan Dowd was a British writer and activist. She was raised in London by Irish parents and visited Ireland often when she was a girl, developing strong ties her parents’ homeland. Dowd wrote children’s literature, including A Swift Pure Cry, The London Eye Mystery, Bog Child and Solace of the Road.
Dowd spent much of her adult life fighting for human rights and was very active in the English and American PEN, a writers’ organization, where she edited a collection of work by imprisoned authors and journalists and led a defense committee for Salman Rushdie. She also felt strongly about protecting children’s rights.
Dowd died of breast cancer in 2007. She wrote profusely during her illness and, prior to her death, had developed the outline and characters for A Monster Calls. After she died, Dowd’s editor asked Patrick Ness to write the story.
Ness says this about Dowd:
When I was asked if I would consider turning her work into a book, I hesitated. What I wouldn’t do – what I couldn’t do – was write a novel mimicking her voice…But the thing about good ideas is that they grow other ideas. Almost before I could help it, Siobhan’s ideas were suggesting new ones to me, and I began to feel that itch that every writer longs for: the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story.
A Monster Calls was illustrated by Jim Kay. In 2012, the book won both the Carnegie and Greenway medals for writing and illustration, the first time a book has won both awards. (Read more about Dowd in The Guardian and on Wikipedia and see this article in The Telegraph for more details about Ness and Kay.)
About the movie:
A Monster Calls was made into a movie and will be released in the United States on October 21, 2016. Written by Ness and directed by J.A. Bayona, the film stars Lewis MacDougall as Conor, Liam Neeson as the monster, Felicity Jones as his mum, Tony Kebbell as his dad, and Sigourney Weaver as the grandma. Check out the film here on IMDb.com.
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