Author: Patrick Ness/Original Idea: Siobhan Dowd
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Conor was once again awake in the night when–just after midnight–the monster showed up. He ought to have been terrified of the yew tree in his backyard come walking, but the truth is, he’s seen much worse. His waking days are filled with the realities of his mother’s cancer: the days when she’s so sick and weak she can’t do anything, the way everyone at school–even the teachers–avoids him and treats him like he might be diseased himself. Then at night, there’s the nightmare . . . the one so bad that even a yew monster seems not so scary. After all, it’s just a tree.
A Monster Calls is a story I picked up after hearing several other people give it positive reviews, and I’m glad I did. This is an unexpected story, in many senses of the word. It’s eerie and dark, yet somehow everyday as well. Conor lives in the tragically mundane normal world, trying as desperately as a thirteen-year-old can to help his mom and survive school. Yet he is haunted by this absolutely horrifying nightmare . . . one that is made more frightening to the reader by not being explained until the very end. (The build-up of tension through this is quite effective.) And the yew monster is an unpredictable and spooky touch that makes what would otherwise be a fairly set family/medical drama into something other, deeply psychological and intense. It’s nearly impossible to predict the outcomes–and frankly, if not for the physical evidence the yew leaves, it would seem most likely that Conor is going insane. It’s really hard to tell sometimes. I think Jim Kay’s art is perfect for this story–inky black-and-white watercolor-type pictures with all sorts of eerie shapes and textures that build the atmosphere wonderfully. I would highly recommend A Monster Calls for anyone, say, middle school and up, although the psychological intensity might be better for a slightly older audience–I was definitely sobbing out loud by the end of the book.