A Monster Calls
Thirteen-year-old Conor awakens one night to find a monster outside his bedroom window, but not the one from the recurring nightmare that began when his mother became ill--an ancient, wild creature that wants him to face truth and loss.
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ELIZABETH RAMSEY BIRD thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over
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Heavily illustrated with dark, realistic sketches. Conor suffers with terrible nightmares of a monster, deals with bullies and isolation at school, and tries to believe his mum when she says her cancer treatments are working. Then the giant yew tree out in the yard becomes a monster who haunts Conor with daytime dreams, telling him 3 parables and requiring Conor to tell the 4th story - his own - himself.
Thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley isn’t having an easy time. When he’s asleep, he has nightmares. When he’s at school, he’s bullied. And at home, he watches his mother grow weaker every day as her cancer and treatments vie for control of her body. His grandmother, whom he detests, is talking about him moving in with her, while his father keeps him at a safe distance from his new family. So when the giant yew tree in the graveyard behind Conor’s house twists itself into a monster and comes looking for him, it seems like just one more thing to deal with; until it demands from him the one thing too terrifying to face – the truth. This is a dense, complex and multilayered book that constantly challenges the reader‘s intellect, morality and sense of reality. The monster, in classic fairy tale fashion, promises to visit Conor three times before returning to extract his due. Early on, the reader shares Conor’s confusion as he struggles to determine whether the monster’s visit was real or merely another dream. The author boldly strews ambiguity throughout the book like the yew needles scattered across Conor’s bedroom floor the morning after the first visitation. Each time the monster comes walking he tells Conor a story, ingenious tales with surprise endings and twists that defy prediction, giving the reader the sense of a rug pulled out from under them. The stories, deceptively simplistic, resemble Conor’s life, where nothing makes sense and nothing is fair. The reader’s understanding of the monster as internal or external, real or imagined, enemy or ally, changes dramatically as the story progresses. This is a book to ponder, to linger over, perhaps even to argue with. Conor, his family and their circumstances are fully fleshed out and believable. Ness brilliantly succeeds at the task of having the reader fill in the spaces in the narrative with their own emotions rather than simply telling us what his character feels. Pain, panic, fury and guilt are explored in this story where the only ray of light is the love between a mother and her son that is about to be extinguished on one end. The amount of personal growth Conor achieves in a short space of time is staggering, moving through the stages of grief compounded by youthful dependence and the everyday cruelties of high school and broken families. When he gathers his courage at the end of the book, it is with a new, hard-won maturity that gives us hope for his future. “A Monster Calls” is stunningly illustrated in black-and-white by Jim Kay, adding immensely to the tone of the book. The extensive decorations and pictures, some appearing as negatives with transposed colours, are surreal and nightmarish. Leaving this volume lying about the house would prove irresistible for a teen. In addition to its striking physical appearance the original storyline, powerful drama and conflict will appeal to readers, while many teens will identify with Conor’s struggles with bullying and his step-family, his fight for acceptance, and capacity for conflicting feelings. This book’s message that actions are more important than words or thoughts is both reassuring and a call to arms for readers of all ages.
The monster comes at 12:07. It would probably be easier for everyone, the monster included, if Conor were afraid of it, but he isn’t. Conor’s afraid of much worse things at the moment. His mom has cancer and this time the treatments don’t seem to be working as well as they have in the past. He’s plagued by a nightmare so awful he believes that no one else ever need know of it. Bullies at school pound him regularly, his grandmother is annoying, and his dad lives with a different family in America. The crazy thing is that Conor kind of wants to be punished, but the monster has a different purpose in mind. It’s going to tell him three stories and when it’s done Conor will tell him a fourth. A fourth that is the truth and also the last thing he’d ever want to say.
Night after night, Connor is woken by the same nightmare, “the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter who hard he tried to hold on.” It is one night, after waking from this nightmare, that the monster arrives, twisting to life from the yew tree in the graveyard. The monster comes to offer Connor a deal; it will tell Connor three stories, but then he must tell the monster a fourth story, and it must be the truth. However, Connor’s mum is very sick and the truth is the thing that he fears the worst.
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