The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild.
Age Is But a Number
A Monster Calls was amazing in the complexity it conveyed through a simple story. I really wasn’t expecting it to be so heart-wrenching, let alone a cathartic read. Aimed at a much younger reader than I am, I thought I’d walk away liking this book, at best. Middle Grade to Young Adult books for younger teens rarely hold my attention anymore the way they used to, so I tend to avoid them.
In fact, I almost did avoid A Monster Calls when I realised the protagonist was a 13-year-old boy. I’m glad I didn’t allow that discovery to deter me from reading what has become one of my favourite reads of 2016.
A teacher once told me that short stories are more difficult to write than long ones. If you can convince (or touch) with few words, that’s when you have mastered the craft. This observation most definitely applies here. At 216 pages, less even as some spreads were illustrations sans words, this book is a short one. Though written for a younger reader, it still transcends age as it manages to speak to those of us who have left our childhood days behind.
Amazing Despite Simple Plot
In the grand scheme of things, A Monster Calls was predictable. It had a predetermined trajectory that avid reader can easily recognise during the first few chapters. The outcome and resolution itself wasn’t a surprise but it still moved me.
What did surprise me about the book were moments that exposed my own prejudices and subverted my expectations — akin to the impact fables had on me as a child. Reading A Monster Calls transported my mind to the days when I still understood the world as black and white. I liked how the greys were elevated through this story. I also appreciated the assurance that no matter how much we fear our twisted minds, we’re much more complex than any single thought.
Elevated Through Illustrations
Speaking of black and white and grey, the illustrations added so much to the atmosphere! They were dark but softened by a touch of whimsy. That whimsicality brought out the magical realism that underscored the narrative. Jim Kay’s illustrations supported Patrick Ness’s words with such discernment, I can’t divorce the to in my mind. If you’re planning to read A Monster Calls, please do yourself a favour and pick an illustrated edition!