Today I bring you my review of A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay.
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Siobhan Dowd was a successful writer. Unfortunately, she died young, in 2007, victim of an intense battle against cancer. At the terminal stage of her life, she had this idea for a novel and started working on it with her editor. Later, Patrick Ness was contacted to continue the story and, the illustrator Jim Kay was brought into the project as well. Ness is an award-winning author, known for his Chaos Walking trilogy (you can find my review for the first book here) and you may recognise Kay’s name from the new illustrated editions of Harry Potter.
Whenever young Connor sees the monster outside his window, at precisely seven past midnight, he always expects it to be the one hunting his dreams ever since his mother started her treatments. However, what he encounters is something very different.
I knew I was in for an emotional read. I mean, just the “birth” story of this book (or the idea of it) is sad. Although, I wasn’t expecting it to be about the themes it is.
I have to admit I think I stopped reading the synopsis of this book after the monster part: I had no idea that there would be a severely sick character. So I was a little surprised to encounter a children’s book (I mean, I consider it a book for younger audiences although this is considered young adult) about the pain and denial associated with living with someone battling cancer. As having recently gone through the same thing with a family member, this book hit me close to home. So often we read and see stories of cancer patients: their struggles and their joys. But, at least in my experience, I’ve never seen someone tell the other side of that coin. How it feels to see someone you care about slowly fade away. How is it to see their pain and not being able to do something to relieve them of it.
The way that Ness puts all these feelings and others into words is just magnificent. He has a way with them, I don’t know how to put it in another way. There’s just people who are so familiar and comfortable with words, they write magical things. Ness’ style in this book is so raw and simple, yet so flourished and beautiful. I love the way he isn’t trying to steal this idea from someone else whose fate was really unfortunate, he just wants to give a voice to a story he finds essential and urgent to be told (if you don’t believe this, just read the author’s note). Although, he can never disappoint and his writing and plot choices are on point.
The monster tells several stories to Connor and never, EVER I’ve seen a children’s book transmitting such messages. The world isn’t black and white as the fairy tales make it seem. People aren’t just bad or good, there’s so many layers to all of humanity’s traits. I’ve read a lot of books in my life and I’m sure only more adult books brush on these themes.
There aren’t many characters as human as the ones in this book. Their feelings, struggles and traits are so real. Connor’s family, both his mother and grandma, have less “screen” and yet you know them perfectly because they are just that understandable: you have felt the exact same things at one point or another, maybe at different degrees but still. I love dense characters.
Still, what I felt was the most marvellous thing about this book were the illustrations. They not only set the mood of the book but are also such works of art. There’s so much detail and depth to this black and white drawings. I think it took me longer than expected to finish this because I would just stop and admire the illustrations for ages. I loved how almost every page also had some little details, making this book a lot more lovelier! I’m completely blown away, they sell this book without the artwork! That’s butchering the whole story in my opinion!
I haven’t been quite this touched by a piece of literary work in a long time. I ended it feeling so whole and yet very heart broken. I absolutely loved this book and will be recommending it to anyone really.
Please tell me if you’ve read this and loved it (or not, although I have to admit I haven’t seen one bad review about this title).
Here’s one of the many beautiful quotes in it:
Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?
See you soon,