A monster calls by Patrick Ness

cover image

(From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd). Ill. by Jim Kay. Walker Books, 2011. ISBN 9781406311525.
(Age 13 +) Highly recommended. The cover and title might suggest this is a horror story but in fact it is a touching tale about a boy facing the death of his beloved mother. It's bad enough that Conor's mum is battling cancer; it's bad enough that Conor is having dreadful nightmares but things become even worse when the yew tree monster comes to call. Every night at exactly 12.07 the monster appears. At first Conor thinks it means to frighten him until he discovers that the monster wants to tell him three stories: one about a witch queen (a little like his grandmother), one about a selfish man (a little like his dad) and one about a lonely, invisible man (a little like himself). Conor is confused and angered by these stories which all have a sharp twist in their tails. However, he is horrified when the monster asks him to tell the story of his nightmare. Can he finally face the truth?
The idea for this touching story came from Siobhan Dowd, whose untimely death prevented its completion. Patrick Ness has done a brilliant job in taking Dowd's idea and not only making it his own, but also, creating a beautiful book in the process. He is well supported by illustrator, Jim Kay, whose dark pictures and evocative cover complement the text brilliantly. The placing of the illustrations even provides an antidote at times: as the grief and anger mounts in Conor's life, it is almost a relief to turn a page and find the mood conveyed in pictures rather than words.
And the meaning of the nightly visits by the monster will finally, and heart wrenchingly, become clear to both Conor and the reader. The subject matter behind this story may be dark but Ness cleverly finds the beauty of love and life at its core - readers will be saddened but also satisfied by the novel's ending.
Deborah Marshall