January 25, 2013 by Heidi
Title: A Monster Calls [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Patrick Ness [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Middle Grade, Horror
Published: September 27th, 2011 by Walker Books
Format: Hardcover; 215 pages.
Source: Borrowed from Catie.
I’m going to do something a little different today. Partially because after sitting on this one for several months I still have so many volatile feelings in relation to it that I just need to talk about them, and partially because so many people out there have already read this one, so I feel that I can do so without spoiling it for everyone. That said, this is not a review. This is just going to be me talking about A Monster Calls and my reaction to it, so yes, there will be spoilers. If you wish this book to remain a mystery to you, read no further! I’m also going to do another thing I don’t really do on this blog. I’m going to get really personal, and share some not so pleasant stories about myself. So sorry for that in advance. And sorry for the swears.
The first thing you should know about my reading of A Monster Calls is that I didn’t cry. I didn’t even tear up. In fact, as far as I can tell, I didn’t have a “normal” reaction to this book whatsoever. Yes, it gave me THE FEELS, but those feels weren’t sadness or heartache, they were anger, jealousy, and shame. Ugly, horrible feelings that are as treacherous as a monster who comes to tell you stories–not to teach or to help, but because you called him.
Have you ever read anything that was too close to home? Not the kind where a character reminds you of yourself and so you love them, but the kind where they remind you of yourself and so you hate them? That was me with Conor. In A Monster Calls, Conor is a thirteen year old boy struggling to come to terms with the reality that his mother is dying, and that her death will irrevocably change him and his life. He is angry at the fact that it changes the way people treat him, angry that his father has started a new family in America, and angry that somewhere inside he knows a truth he is unwilling to acknowledge.
Quite frankly, Conor being so damn troubled pissed me off. Why? Well, because I was jealous of the kid. On my 12th birthday, my mother, brother, and I were in a car accident that my mother did not survive. We did not know it was coming. We did not get to say goodbye. Suddenly, while entering what would be the most awkward years of my life, I had no mom. That’s right. My mom died, and two weeks later I started Middle School, got my period, and started stealing tampons from my friends’ mothers’ bathrooms because I was too embarrassed to tell anyone but my mom. Conor knew that his mom was dying. Sure, he treated her great, but I couldn’t help but wanting to yell “Appreciate this, you little shit! Do you have any idea how lucky you are that you get to prepare? That you get to say goodbye?” I realize this makes me horrid and spiteful, but sometimes you can’t really help the way something makes you feel inside.
Like Conor, I drew into myself, told the school counselor that no, I did not need help and wasn’t going through anything. I lost a lot of friends for a lot of reasons, some of which were because, like Conor, I turned mean, and some because, like Conor’s classmates, people just didn’t know how to be with me anymore. This kid Scott, who I’d been good friends with the past two years said at one point, “Geez, Heidi, ever since your mom died you turned into a bitch!” I punched him in the face. I also punched a girl Lacy in the face, whom I had never been friends with, for mocking me for not having a mom (yeah, kids really do that shit). I was not punished either time. Like Conor, I didn’t even get in trouble because those who witnessed these events didn’t have the heart to punish me for lashing out. I deserved to be punished. Like Conor, I just wanted to be treated like a normal kid. I didn’t want all of these exceptions made for me because of my mom.
I felt like I knew this story so well when I was reading it, and that I knew Conor so well. Like the monster’s stories that aren’t meant to teach lessons, sometimes bad things just happen. There isn’t a reason, and there’s no stopping them. They just are. Like Jim Kay’s frighteningly beautiful illustrations, my feelings for A Monster Calls were dark, chaotic, and on the verge of losing control. You know how you get that creeping feeling of shame when you remember things in life that you really, truly, shouldn’t have done? That is how I felt reading this book, embarrassed and full of indignant anger.
A Monster Calls gave me real emotions, and even if they were not ones I enjoy, or even find touching–even if they’re the kind I push away or bottle deep inside where I can ignore them–they were authentic. I didn’t feel like Patrick Ness was pulling my strings to get me to feel that way, as I so often feel with emotional books. This may be one of the most real to me stories I have ever encountered. It hurt me, and drug me back to a time in my life that I try not to think on. I hated reading this book, but I will never forget it.