Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Posted October 14, 2013 by Debby in Book Reviews

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books on September 27th, 2011
Genres: Contemporary, Horror, Young Adult
Pages: 215
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

The monster showed up 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...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

3 Stars

*sigh* The hype machine strikes again. I don’t know what it was this time, but… nope. Judging by all the four and five star ratings from my friends on Goodreads, I was kind of expecting my mind to be blown. I was told I would need tissues. Instead, I reached the last page and just had a blank stare, questioning, “Was that it? Really?”

To be fair, I’ll never regret having purchased this book in hardcover because damn if the book itself isn’t a work of art. The illustrations, done by Jim Kay, are absolutely amazing. So if you were thinking of buying this on an e-reader or Kindle, put that thought out of your head, and just pay the extra couple of dollars, because whoa. The haunting brushwork in the full page illustrations and the detail work on the sides of pages were just absolutely stunning and definitely my favorite part of the book.

The story, on the other hand, left more to be desired. In all honesty, when I finished, I questioned whether I was just too stupid for this book, because I think I must have missed something if that accounted for all those raving reviews. If I didn’t miss something, then clearly I must be an insensitive bitch, because… it didn’t really do much for me.

So Conor’s mother has cancer, and Conor is coping with that in his own way. He has a persistent nightmare that haunts him almost every night. And then this monster suddenly comes to visit him and wants to tell him three stories, with the bargain that afterwards, Conor tells him his story. Conor is in denial about the fact that he even has a story to tell, but okay. Meanwhile, Conor goes to school, where he is pitied, ignored, and excluded by many because of his mother’s condition. He even draws the attention of a bully. And to top it all off, his father remarried and is busy with his new family across the ocean.

Basically, A Monster Calls is a story about Conor’s grief, coming to terms with death, and facing his fears. And while I know that that’s a meaningful and deep story, it just didn’t really touch me the way it did others. I don’t get along well with books centered on death. Thinking back on If I Stay/Where She Went and The Lovely Bones, and now this? It’s a definite thing. I know that they should make me feel something, but I just don’t. I’m just reading with a blank expression and then I reach the end and am like, “Okay. So that’s it.” That’s not to say that it’s a bad book – it’s not bad at all. The writing is definitely imaginative and good, the illustrations definitely immersed me in the story, but… I’m still lacking that feeling. And I wonder why? I mean, I have lost people close to me, but not at all recently, and it was while I was quite young. So I guess maybe that’s it – it’s just not personally relevant enough, and I didn’t get so close to Conor to really feel what he felt.

Summing Up:

This book has left me feeling conflicted. I’m really disappointed that it didn’t have the profound emotional effect on me that it has had on others, and it also kind of makes me feel a bit ashamed. But it is what it is. I think in a few years time, if I reread this, there is a high chance that I will feel differently about it. I think whether you really connect with this book is reliant on your own experiences. So it didn’t resonate with me now, but it might well do that later.

Others I think will have better luck with this book than I did. And certainly, it is a work of art in itself, and I will go back to look at those beautiful illustrations more often. My final thought is that this book really should be read in one sitting (which isn’t too hard, considering its length). I think that way you are really the most immersed in the story and the ending will have the best effect.

Note to self: At least check the synopsis once before you think that all four/five star ratings from friends means that you will automatically love it too. You know stories about grief don’t work for you now. Just. Just. Okay.

GIF it to me straight!

Yeah. That’s right. I feel like that sadistic little fucker. Just… don’t mind me.

Recommended To:

For the artwork, everyone; for the story, people who relate to and are affected by stories of loss and grief.

Need a second opinion?

Wendy at The Midnight Garden: 5 out of 5 stars
Steph at Cuddlebuggery: 5 out of 5 stars

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13 responses to “Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

  1. meg

    Gosh those illustrations are pretty. I wonder if I could get one as a print.
    Grief stories aren't my favorite either. I generally do get choked up, but I feel conflicted about it as one part of my brain is pissed because it thinks it's being manipulated. I just picked up More Than This (it had a peek-a-boo cover, I am a sucker for such things) and we'll see how that goes. I have no experience with Hess's writing, but if I like it maybe I'll check this one out.
    My recent post Review: Proxy by Alex London

  2. I got this in paperback at ABC because it was five euros, but CRAP I WANT THE HARDCOVER. Those illustrations are absolutely stunning! I'm sad this didn't work for you though. It does sound like something I would love, so I'm very excited to pick it up. Stories and grief and death usually made me cry, so I'm looking forward to it. (This makes me sound like the most horrible person ever but oh well.) If I like it, I'll probably buy the hc because yeah… PRETTY.
    My recent post Mini review: Arclight

  3. latenightswithgoodbooks

    I already bought the ebook when it was on sale for a dollar or something. I figure that if I really, really love it, then I may buy a physical copy. But the new edition won't have the drawings, so if I don't really care about them, no loss. We shall see. I'm hoping that this does have an effect on me, but I felt like I was the ONLY person who didn't love If I Stay (well, you too, apparently). That book I read without experiencing much emotion. (I was more busy looking for its virtually non-existent plot.) Still, it's really frustrating to think you're going to love a book because so many trusted reviewers have loved it, only to find out that's not the case. So I do understand you here.
    My recent post Review: All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

  4. Lectus

    I loved Chaos Walking but was never really attracted to this book, but then… you know how it is when everybody is talking about a book and you have no idea what all the fuss is about. So I gave in and started reading it. I think I might just not have been in the mood that day, plus the smell of the glossy pages made me feel nauseous (I have a damn sensitive stomach), but I DNF it.

  5. The art is sooooo pretty. Also, apparently the new edition doesn’t have the pictures, and I super do not get the point of that.

    I was REALLY surprised that Ness used the “I released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding” line.

    This reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman. It was a little bit too “every boy” to really hit me in the feels. It’s a legit style and works for a lot of people, but not so much for me.

    If I’d had a friend or relative die painfully of cancer, I’m sure I would have drowned the world in tears though.

    • Yeah I don’t get that either – Judith got that version and she totally didn’t know about the art in the original. But I guess some people are turned off by illustrations – they think it makes a book too childish. So, different target audience? I dunno. It’s stupid though. People should get over themselves. Art is pretty and art in a book does not mean it’s for small children.

      Fair enough, I see what you mean with the Neil Gaiman reference, but Gaiman, till now, has worked out better for me. But yeah, definitely agree, if I could relate more to the story, I’m sure it would have been heartbreaking.

      • Did you just read Stardust? That’s my favorite Gaiman. There’s more of that in The Ocean at the end of the Lane and The Graveyard Book.

        Art is NOT just for small children. It’s awesome and makes me feel like I’m reading so fast. Without the art, I think this would have been a 3 for me. The story alone would be kinda boring, I think.

  6. I don’t know why I love these types of books either. I guess because they make you feel and empathize with others. I’ve always loved them though. This sounds amazing!