Synopsis from Goodreads:
This is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss. The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. . . .
This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.
A Monster Calls is a small book at 215 pages but it packs a huge punch. It’s the story of a boy who is watching his mother waste away to cancer and whose absentee father has moved to America with his new wife to start a new family. Facing the prospect of losing the one person in his life that he can count on, Conor lives in denial and lashes out at those around him. He is tired of being treated differently because his mom is sick. He’s tired of people tiptoeing around him, making him feel like a freak and making him feel even worse about his situation. He wants to be “seen” again by those around him, but he wants to be seen for who he is and not just as the poor little boy with the sick mother. In short, he just wants to be treated like a normal kid.
A monster arrives in the night to help Conor deal with his feelings and the changes in his life. And oh my god, the monster that arrives is straight out of my nightmares. Literally the only thing I would have found more creepy than this (I’m not sure what the monster actually is is a secret, but just in case I’m staying spoiler free) would have been a clown. Whoops, there’s a spoiler. The monster is not a clown. And I am not going to post the pic of Tim Curry I just googled because I will never sleep again.
The monster tells Conor three stories and demands one in return, and this one must be the truth. The tree’s stories are fairy-tale like in presentation and all teach Conor a lesson meant to help him deal with his life and the people in it (and they really piss him off, as stories that hit the mark often do).
Not to get all personal, but as the daughter of a breast cancer survivor (cancer free for 15 years!) I could relate to Conor. Granted my mother was never as sick as Conor’s, but I can understand his sense of denial and his refusal to believe that anything could really happen and that his mom’s illness was just a minor bump in the road while at the same time feeling that everything is spiraling out of control and nothing will ever be normal again. It’s scary! I was in college when my mom got sick and it was hard enough, I can’t even imagine dealing with it at the same young age as Conor. And I understood his lashing out, because it does make you angry. There is definitely a “why MY mom?” and a “why ME?” factor. Conor’s behavior felt real to me because I too was angry rather than sad.
Conor’s relationship with his father made me sad as well. I have an awesome dad and I can’t imagine what it would feel like to just be cast aside in favor of a new family, especially if my mom was dying. There isn’t really a villain in the book (other than the cancer itself, natch) but if I had to pick one it would be dear ‘ol dad. Just complete fuckery on dad’s part. Grandma is kind of a persnickety old lady but at least she’s there for Conor when he needs her.
All of this said, I unexpectedly made it to the final chapter before the waterworks started. I really thought I would be sniffling the entire way through but while the book is sad, it’s more sweet than anything. The illustrations are really gorgeous as well, I especially like the way the monster is depicted. He really does look like a monster that would scare a little kid (and me, I won’t lie). This is a beautifully written book that would be great for a middle grade kid dealing with the loss of a parent…or anyone dealing with loss, really. I’ve never read anything by either Patrick Ness or Siobhan Dowd, but I will be seeking out books by both of them going forward.
4.5/5 stars (I Like It Very Much and a Half)