A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

monster callsA Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness
pub. date 2011

Looking at the cover and reading the summary, I thought this book was going to be a creepy, scary story fit for Halloween. Instead, I found an introspective novel about dealing with some of the most difficult aspects of life.

The story begins one night when a monster comes to visit Conor, but Conor is not scared because he has faced a scarier monster in his dreams. The visiting monster promises to come back three times and tell three stories, but then Conor must tell the monster about his recurring nightmare. At first, Conor thinks the monster is just a weird dream. Yet, things keep happening in real life that show him this is no dream. The monster is real, and the monster is there to help him.

In between visits from the monster, Conor deals with school bullies, an estranged father, and a mother who doesn’t seem to be getting better. Each of the stories the monster tells help Conor vent his frustrations and work through his problems in daily life.  But this is no kum by yah with platitudes that everything will be alright and perfect in the end. This is real life, and sometimes things are not the way they seem or the way people believe they should be.

I love how realistic this story is. The emotions of the characters are big, and very real. Their reactions to the situations are not always pleasant, but they are also not fake. Several times when a character was speaking, I could see the face of a person I know who would say the same kind of thing. I also was impressed that the ending wasn’t a cop out with everyone learning their lesson and handling the situation perfectly. It was people recognizing that life is hard: that sometimes you have to break something, hurt someone, or accept that you are not happy in order to keep moving.

This story has personal meaning for me. When I was a teenager, my mother died of cancer. Watching her die, clinging to a hope that she would live, and trying to figure out what would happen to me when she was gone was the most emotionally and physically grueling time in my life. Since then, most of the books I have read about people dealing with life and death situations did not encompass what I felt watching my mother when she was ill. Of all the books, I think John Green’s Fault in Our Stars came the closest. A Monster Calls has joined it.

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