A Monster Calls




A Monster Calls

text by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd

illustrated by Jim Kay

Age: 12+

Interests: illness, death, grieving, monsters, nightmares

Walker Books: 2011

224 pp.

Also by this author: The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and Answer, Monsters of Men (these 3 titles form the Chaos Walking trilogy)

Also by Siobhan Dowd: Bog Child, A Swift Pure Cry, The London Eye Mystery, Solace of the Road

Thirteen-year-old Conor awakens from a recurring nightmare to find that a real monster is outside his house – a massive, leafy tree creature. The monster is surprised to find Conor is not afraid of him. The boy simply says he’s seen worse (in his nightmares). The monster has come to tell the boy three stories, and in return Conor must tell him the truth about his worst nightmare.

Conor’s mother is undergoing cancer treatments and declining rapidly. His father is far off in America with a new family, and his grandmother is no comfort to him, as she is dealing with her own grief. At school Conor is being bullied and has isolated himself from everyone, including his best friend. It seems the monster has come to help him somehow, but the stories it tells are unclear, and full of paradox. Conor suffers many changes, lets out his pent-up emotions, and in the end is able finally to accept his mother’s death and turn to the future.

The original idea for this story came from Siobhan Dowd, the award-winning author and activist who suffered from terminal cancer and had just started the novel when she died in 2007. Patrick Ness was contracted to write it in her stead, with Jim Kay providing the illustrations. This book is the only book ever to win both the Greenaway Medal for children’s book illustration and the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature.

The phrase “facing your own demons” is a trite one, and while accurate, it doesn’t do justice to the journey that poor Conor must take in this novel. The monster prods him to face his own emotions and let out some of the rage that is tormenting him, in two rather shocking episodes. At the same time the monster tells him three twisted and complex fairy tales, the theme of each being that no one is completely good or bad. Sometimes the heroic prince is the villain, and the evil witch the victim. At the end Conor must tell him his own nightmare, the most devastating secret of his young life.

This is a stunning, masterful work about grief and emotions and acceptance. Written for young adults, but challenging for all readers in its depth and complexity. Incredibly moving and sad; this book will make you weep.

(this title available at amazon.com)

Illustration from A Monster Calls A-Monster-Calls-Illustration


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Dirk Porsche
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 22:11:01

    It did make me weep. Thanks for the recommendation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
%d bloggers like this: