The monster loosened its grip, and Conor could breathe again. ‘So what do you want with me?’ Conor asked.
The monster gave an evil grin. The wind died down and a quiet fell. At last, said the monster. To the matter at hand. The reason I have come walking.
Conor tensed, suddenly dreading what was coming.
Here is what will happen, Conor O’Malley, the monster continued, I will come to you again on further nights.
Conor felt his stomach clench, like he was preparing for a blow.
And I will tell you three stories. Three tales from when I walked before.“
At 12:07 every night since Conor’s mother took a turn for the worse, the monster comes to visit. Looking like an enormous yew tree, and leaving trails of spiky leaves on Conor’s bedroom floor, he demands something of the young man. In trade for three of his stories, Conor must tell his own.
But he cannot do it. Even though the ancient monster is terrifying, full of magic older than time, even though Conor is not even sure he has a choice, he is too afraid. He is more frightened of revealing his own nightmare than of anything the monster could do. However, when he begins to believe that telling the truth will somehow heal his mother, from the cancer ravaging her body, he musters up the courage to share the truth of his worst nightmare with the monster.
Just like The Book of Lost Things, this is a story about sickness, the isolating nature of grief and fear, and the place of stories in our lives. The book was inspired by an idea from the award-winning author, Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before the story could be written. Patrick Ness, the author of The Knife of Never Letting Go picked up her torch and, with illustrator Jim Kay, created a book that you won’t soon forget. The story is messy, in much the same way that life is. Sometimes, our loved ones do not heal, despite the hope we have. We make harmful choices. Our friends betray us, and we do the same to them. However, that is the appeal of the story: I loved this book not only for its haunting illustrations, but also for its honesty.
Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com
Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls. Candlewick: Somerville, 2011. 205 pp. Ages 12 and up.
If you are a younger reader and trying to find books about loved ones with serious illnesses, Notes from the Dog is a good place to start. If you are older, you might want to try The Fault in Our Stars. If the story-telling part was what you loved about this book (and you’re a younger reader) The Neverending Story is a classic book about the importance of stories. If you’re older, and some gruesome bits do not upset you, The Book of Lost Things is my very, very favorite.