I first purchased a copy of this book when I was browsing online at Powells.com for novels I wanted to add to my classroom library.  I'm always on the prowl for good deals on books that I know will help me get students excited to read.  I bought it, labelled it "Torres" on the top edge of the pages and set it on my shelf at school.  The week before Winter break I grabbed it and tossed it in my bag.  Maybe I'd get to it at some point during the next two weeks.

The first book I read was The Call by Peadar O Guilin.  Finished it in the first couple days then decided to read A Monster Calls. It was short enough, maybe I could finish this in a couple days too.  Well, this book took me on an unexpected journey.  Written by Patrick Ness and jam-packed with some of the most beautiful illustrations I've seen in a children's book (done by Jim Kay), the story follows a 13-year-old boy by the name of Conor. He's the son of a single mother battling with cancer.  At 12:07 at night, he's visited by a Monster who demands for Conor to tell him his personal truth. What that truth is, the boy must figure out.

The primary theme that runs rampant through this book is facing your demons and not denying the inevitable truth.  In this case (SPOILER ALERT), Conor must come to terms with the fact that his mother is going to pass away.  A truth that both she and Conor understand but pretend to ignore.  I found this theme to be particularly powerful.  As adults, we struggle to come to terms with things that we're afraid of, especially in cases of losing a loved one.  We see storylines similar to this all the time. I found it brilliant that Ness (inspired by Siobhan Dowd) chose to tell a beautiful story from a child's point-of-view. What is it that most children are afraid of? Monsters.  It was masterfully told and I couldn't put this book down.  And when I was forced to close and pay attention to that obnoxious thing called life, I thought about it nonstop. Whenever I had a free moment, it was open.  A Monster Calls is a great way to teach children about death and empathize with a child's thoughts and feelings. 

Ness' beautiful writing style fills our hearts with the torment that this child feels every day in his grief. There's a lot of symbolism in this story that makes for a lot of great discussions.  It's definitely a book that needs to be talked about.  What does the monster symbolize? What does cancer symbolize? What does Conor's recurring nightmare symbolize? His estranged father?  There's so much to it that I would be sitting here for hours trying to write it all down.  Each piece of symbolism provides it's own minor theme that help us understand the major theme: grief.

One of this most interesting things about this story are the illustrations that go along with it.  And if I'm honest, this is a pretty big reason why I was attracted to it in the first place.  The artwork was created by Jim Kay, who also illustrated the recently released versions of the Harry Potter series.  The images throughout the book provide the reader with a visual experience that perfectly match Ness' dark themes.  Presented in black and white, Kay provides a morose feeling of impending doom but at the same time gives his work quite a bit of movement and kept me flipping back through the pages to continue taking in the images. I wanted them burned into my brain so I made it happen. Even now, I find myself googling images of this book as I write my review.

All in all, if you haven't heard of this book or read it yet, I strongly recommend you do so.  You will not be disappointed.

4.5 out of 5 stars



Published by Christopher Torres