A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (“inspired by an idea from Soibhan Dowd”), illustrated by Jim Kay

A Monster Calls coverWhen bad things are happening, it can be tough for a thirteen year old boy to get his hands on the truth. Conor’s mom is sick, and ever since his teachers found out, they’ve been letting him get away with anything. At home, his mom and grandmother argue over how much to tell Conor – but neither asks him whether he wants to know. And then, one night, a monster arrives at Conor’s window, demanding that Conor tell the truth that he’s been hiding from himself.

The best first: Jim Kay’s illustrations are glorious — dark and detailed, with an emotional strength about them that grabs the attention and adds hugely to the power of the story to linger in the imagination. The characters are believable, and Ness does a great job of bringing the reader into Conor’s experience, offering comfort for those who have experienced something similar, and increasing understanding and compassion in those who have not. The fantasy element adds mythic depth to the story — in keeping with the theme of the novel, there’s a sense of universal truth here, even as the majority of the story lives in the particulars of selfish fathers and guardians too caught up in their own pain to see and address the needs of a child. Although, to me, the story doesn’t quite fulfill its potential — it stays too much on the surface, moves along too quickly, to really develop the depth of truth it hints at – this is absolutely a novel worth sharing.

Read about how Ness and Kay turned Siobhan Dowd’s idea into A Monster Calls, or read a review written from a doctor’s perspective.

Watch a trailer (and see a sample of the illustrations!):

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