A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness. Candlewick Press. 2011
I’m in the midst of grad school books (in addition to my upkeep with To Kill a Mockingbird and Beowulf), so there isn’t much to share in my current readings that most students would be interested in. Conversations in the senior classes, however, reminded me of a very, very good book I picked up in our school library a few years ago that is perfectly timed for the change in seasons. If you aren’t already excited to read this month’s pick by the compelling cover art alone, the above book should appeal to you for many, marvelous reasons. Not least of which is the promise of the title – indeed, A Monster Calls (from Candlewick Press, 2011).
A Monster Calls was inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd, a famed, prize-winning British writer of young adult fiction who died from a severe case of breast cancer in 2007. Her (unfortunately) short list of completed works were widely recognized by literary awards, including the Carnegie, which is the British version of the Newbery Medal. In the words of Patrick Ness, who completed this story: “She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” Ness, author of the Chaos Walking series, picked up her idea and ran with it to a Carnegie Medal of his own for this novella, which details the troubled nights of Conor – a 13-year-old boy with an ailing mother and an inhuman visitor.
Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls.
The Monster in this book is of the Wild – a creature of the thresholds who is literally made of the natural world, visiting Conor each night seven minutes after twelve. The creature is vividly brought to life in award-winning illustrations by Jim Kay, and the images blend seamlessly into the words much as the natural world slowly encroaches on our own concept of “safe” “civilization”. The theme of slow, inexorable changes settles in the pages: in Conor’s attitude, his mother’s health, and the changing role of the monster who visits Conor night after night, stories in hand.
Storytelling is the one of the main takeaways of this novel, which addresses all of the English classes this year. I won’t say any more about this book in the hopes that you will check it out for yourself for a monstrously-good read in this most exciting of seasons. Again, the book is available in our own school library, as are the Chaos Walking books, and a host of other Carnegie winners (and fantasy/young adult fiction books). If nothing else has you looking for this pick, think of it as a chance to read it before it gets cool – the upcoming movie adaptation is due October 2016, written by Ness, and starring Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones.