A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I read a wonderful review of The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness over at Annabel’s House of Books and I asked if it was YA(Young Adult) fiction, a genre I admit to being a little reluctant to read, not because there aren’t excellent books, but because part of the joy for me in reading is to be exposed to and learn, uncommon new words, adding to my private lexicon, words that would seem pretentious in teen fiction.


There are always exceptions however, recently I loved Margarita Engle’s novel-in-verse The Wild Book and when a book sounds like it has qualities that intrigue me, a review by any blogger on my reading wavelength is sufficient for it to lodge in my mind and be called off a shelf when I spot it.  Annabel replied telling me that this was Ness’ first adult novel and recommended his YA trilogy Chaos Walking for a thought-provoking dystopian adventure and described A Monster Calls as phenomenal. That one lodged itself immediately in my mind.

On Saturday I went looking for the original version (French) of Ru by Kim Thuy at the library after reading an excellent interview by BookDragon only to discover that all copies were out.

A Monster CallsNaturally I couldn’t leave without a quick glance at the English language bookshelves and there it was, the beautiful hardback, fully illustrated copy of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls. I picked it up and headed for the exit, so as not to be tempted by more, since I have too much to read already, but as I left, my eye caught the display shelf where I spotted Quelques Minutes Apres Minuit, a familiar book cover in the same colours, yes, the same book with its French title and cover. As you can see, I brought them both home.

The idea for A Monster Calls came from the writer Siobhan Dowd, who was unable to complete the book tragically due to a terminal illness. Patrick Ness was asked to write the story, a remarkable challenge that somehow he managed to achieve without, ironically, the shadow of expectation or any other writerly monster hanging over or haunting him.

Conor O’Malley is thirteen-years-old and lives with his mother; his parents are divorced and his father remarried and now lives in America with his wife and baby daughter. Conor’s mother is in the latter stages of a terminal illness and Conor is coping with doing more things on his own, while becoming distant from his school-friends and attracting the attention of a school bully. On top of all this, his life is complicated by the nightly appearance of a tree monster, who doesn’t really scare him, as he tells it, he’s seen worse.

The monster wants something from him and Conor can’t or won’t offer it and yet he won’t be left alone until he does.

It is as if the extraordinary circumstance that brought this book about, invoked something magical that inspired Patrick Ness beyond what he might otherwise be capable of, because the book transcends the usual storytelling and creates a dialogue someplace between a brutal reality that is, and the unwanted but unstoppable future that will be, where an apparition takes on the role of enticing the traumatised teenager towards that excruciating path he must follow.

The entrance to the wonderful Mejanes Library in Aix-en-Provence

The entrance to the wonderful Mejanes Library in Aix-en-Provence

It is a breathtakingly raw journey that the author maps out, navigated with the extraordinary insight that only a vivid, courageous and mature imagination could channel.

It will leave you in awe.


A rare 5 stars from me.

Recommended for all ages.

38 thoughts on “A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

  1. Thank you! I’m so glad you loved A Monster Calls too. There was something so elemental about the monster that I loved. Actually he used the storytelling device in The Crane Wife too, albeit not through a monster, but I didn’t mention it in my review. 🙂


    • Thanks again for recommending it, I was delighted to find such a beautiful copy in the library, there are so few books available in English. And to find a gem!

      I just realised that The Crane Wife is based on a Japanese folktale, I can’t wait to read it.


  2. Your review is wonderful, and it’s so refreshing to see a review of a book which clearly stands out amongst most other generic ‘young adult’ fiction out there. I ordered a copy of this last week, and am very excited to read it now!


  3. Beautiful review, Claire! You rarely give 5-stars even to your favourite books and so this one must be really special. It is interesting that Ness expanded on the story idea given by another writer. I will look for this book and I will look forward to reading it.


  4. I loved your review – every part of it! The illustrations are great! And its clear that both you and Annabel loved this book – that’s good enough for me – I’ll be making plans to get a hold of this as soon as I can!


  5. I have put the book on my “to read” list. I value your opinion and if you give this 5 stars, than i must take the time to read the book. My french copy of Ru will be here tomorrow!


    • Definitely worth following up, I am sure I remember hearing about it when it was winning all the prizes, I am really glad I eventually got to read it. I am intrigued to read The Crane Wife too, to see how he handles adult fiction.


  6. Interestingly, when we read this is one of my reading groups we were split over it. While some people loved it others thought it was overdone. And it wasn’t because it was youth fiction as all of us are in one way or another involved in teaching children of the age it is intended for. We’ve put his new adult novel on the list for later in the year so it will be interesting to see how we respond to that.


    • Interesting. I had a conversation today with someone about the appropriateness of such books for young people who really are going through something like Conor is, are these books easier to absorb from a safe distance i.e. by those who are not going through something traumatic? I’m not sure I would recommend it to someone who really was going through dealing the death of a loved one, but I do think there is value in analysing all that emotion and giving it an articulate representation, kind of like dealing with a form of post traumatic grief, if such a thing exists.

      I’m not sure if this was the issue your group discussed, as a piece of fiction I thought it was extraordinary, the way he deals with physical acts and the moments when Conor loses the plot and the reluctance of the monster to actually say what needs to be said. Getting all that across on the page is a pretty amazing talent.


      • Yes, those who didn’t really appreciate it were concerned about how appropriate it would be for a child in that position and of course the problem if you’re reading it with a class is that you can never be completely certain that you know everything about the circumstances of each and every member of the group.


  7. I’m on page 15 of the original version (french) of Ru by Kim Thuy. It takes your breath away in it’s simplicity of language. She conveys so much feeling is a few rich yet concise words. Le livre est vraiment bien fait, à la fois riche et concis!


  8. This book is one of a handful of books to make me cry. Such a good read. I own the hardcover, and bought my family the paperback version so they can read it (and cry afterwards.)


  9. I love the folk tale of The Crane Wife. It would be very interesting to see how it translates to a novel. I am also intrigued with your description of A Monster Calls. Thanks for sharing another fine post, Claire.


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  11. I love the entrance to the library: fantastic!!! I don’t normally like YA books but I always like your recommendations so I’ll give this a read – thanks for the recommendation – it sounds good.


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