Thoughts On: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness


January 25, 2013 by Heidi

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness book coverTitle: 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.


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  1. Cecelia says:

    Thank you for sharing your reaction to this book. Also, serious congratulations on surviving your teen years – you’re strong.

  2. Thank you for being brave enough to share your personal reactions and memories associated with this book, Heidi. You are not alone out there.

    I think this is one of those books that, like you said, doesn’t try to manipulate you into feeling things – it just happens and that’s different for every reader based on their experience. And the best part is the story itself is moving and incredible and really HARD to read.

    You describe the illustrations perfectly too. They add that extra emotional depth to the story that resonate with the reader that just stick to your bones.

  3. elena says:

    This is such a powerful review, Heidi. I can see how this book would resonate so strongly with you and why you hate it. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Love you my dear! Though I know your story, it still made me feel for you seeing how you opened up in this review. It was beautifully written!

  5. First of all, I’m so sorry that you had to go through your teen years without your mom and that you’ll have to live through so many more things without her there to see it. It’s not fair, and you have every right to be angry, sad, or anything else you feel like being.
    I don’t think anything you wrote or felt makes you horrid or spiteful, quite the contrary. My dad didn’t die suddenly, but I was too young to realize what was going on and I barely remember him now, and I was always SO jealous of my friends who were daddy’s little girls because I didn’t even remember what it’s like to have a dad.
    And I was angry too, and I created a lot of problems, but I guess I needed to. Just like you needed to punch people. :)
    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing, I admire you for it. :)

  6. Michelle says:

    Thank you for having the courage to share such a private part of yourself; and I am sorry for your loss and the difficult years you experienced afterward. I don’t think you should feel like the emotions you felt or the reactions you had while reading A Monster Calls were wrong! We all bring different things to the books we read, and naturally your reaction would be even more visceral and immediate than most.

  7. Heidi, I truly am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine going through life without a mother, especially as a teen, and your bravery astounds me. Even the courage it must have taken to write this extremely heartfelt review and post it humbles me and I feel incredibly grateful to know someone like you. You were always an inspiration to me as a reader and writer and now you’ve become one to me as a person too, and I thank you for that.

    A Monster Calls is a novel I’ve heard a lot about, and mostly positive things, but I can see where you come from when it comes to this story. I have many novels that touch me on similar personal levels and I appreciate your honesty in admitting your anger and frustration with this story. I have quite a few books like that myself – most notably Fire by Kristin Cashore. Although Fire is a very well-loved book by many readers, it constantly affects me on such a personal level because of Fire’s relationship with her father and while I connect with it because of its complexity, it does irritate me at times that her father was so black and white, with such few shades of grey, whereas my father is someone I can never fully make up my mind about. For a long time during my childhood he was a heavy drinker and I’ve always held him in contempt for his behavior and the decisions he made under the influence of alcohol, but ever since I read Fire, I’ve been able to relate to her fear of becoming who her father is. Of course, my experience with the book is a little difference because I genuinely love it, but I DO understand where your feelings for this stem from and they are perfectly justified.

    I wish, at times, that books could just express the feelings we want them to express, no matter how painful. I feel like we fall in love with some books because they are constantly on the brink of that understanding, but at times I wish they would just touch upon it so we didn’t feel so alone and strange with our mixture of emotions in the world.

    Although this book wasn’t one you enjoyed, I appreciate that you can recognize its qualities. Truly, thank you for such an honest, courageous, and beautifully written review, Heidi. :)

  8. Brandy says:

    Wow Heidi this was really brave. Thank you for sharing your reactions and experiences in such a forthright and honest way. I felt while I was reading this that there would be some strong reactions to the book from those who have any experience like Connor’s. I really do hope people don’t try to use it as bibliotherapy because you can never tell how book that is this honest and raw will do to someone actually experiencing the same thing.

  9. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m glad to know that you didn’t feel like Pullman was engaging in emotional manipulation–what you shared has aleveated my small niggling doubt that he was (partly because of the dog in Knife of Never Letting Go!). Viz bibliotherapy, picking up on Brandy’s comment, maybe this would be one to give to the kids looking on at a classmate in such a situation…

  10. Holly says:

    I don’t know what else to say except thanks for sharing something so personal. Everything you’ve ever felt or still feel is completely valid. Books can be so powerful. Thinking of you. *hugs*

  11. I don’t know what to write in this comment to not sound trite or stupid or fake. I am so utterly sorry for your loss. Even though it’s been years, I imagine that it never does stop hurting. I’m sorry you never got to say goodbye. I am sorry you had to go through middle school without a mom to guide you through puberty’s pitfalls. Those kids you punched had it coming, though. Sounds like you gave them the swift kick in the ass that they so throughly deserved. Anyways thanks for having the courage to tell us why A Monster Calls was so personal to you. <3333

  12. Heidi, dear, I’m so sorry for you. Thank you for sharing such a personal reaction, Heidi. I know that it can’t be easy for you to talk about, and I’m so sad for your loss. I hope you know that you’re not alone in your feelings, and in reading books that give people such visceral, unpleasant reactions, but I admire so much that you shared.
    I’m sorry that you’ve been missing your mom for so long and through so many growing pains. Middle-school Heidi sounds like a tough little cookie, and I get the feeling that grown-up Heidi is made of pretty strong stuff, too. Big hugs to you, friend. xoxo

  13. This review. Heidi, I wish I would’ve been there to punch those kids in the face for you. I think this book is so emotionally intense for anyone who can relate to it. It didn’t make me angry, it just made me so ashamed and guilty for those times in my life when I watched relatives slowly die and *hoped* it would come soon, for so many reasons and at least some of them were a bit selfish. Even though it took you a long time to compose your thoughts on this book, I’m very grateful you did, because I won’t soon forget them.

  14. This may not be a review in the traditional sense, but this is still one of the most powerful posts about books I’ve ever read.

    I am so sorry to hear that you went through such an ordeal as a child. I can’t imagine ever experiencing something like that. I’m sorry that reading this book dug up such dark and powerful emotions for you. I hope that the process of finally recording your thoughts has freed you in a way, so that you can move forward with other, more pleasant reads. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on here.

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.