Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Timeless. These are the words we often use to describe powerful classics. Well, they also describe Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls.
This is the type of book that never quite leaves you. When you put it down, you still feel it. It calls to you. Reaches for you. It becomes part of you.
After you’ve finished, when you drift off in thought, you’ll still find yourself occasionally thinking back to this story.
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What Drew Me To A Monster Calls?
A Monster Calls was a Barnes and Noble sale find for me. Honestly, I looked at the cover and figured it would be way too “young” for most of my students or myself. But, I figured, the illustrations might entice some more reluctant readers to pick up a book.
So, I purchased it and put it at the bottom of my To Be Read pile.
But then a student saw it. A very bright, intelligent, well-read student. And she told me it was her favorite. She couldn’t wait for me to read it!
Reluctantly, I moved A Monster Calls to the top of my list. I’ve learned that when students go out of their way to talk to you about a novel, you listen. (I mean, that’s how I fell in love with Carry On and Allegedly.)
What Makes A Monster Calls “Lit”?
Reading A Monster Calls reminds you that writing is a craft. Ness chose his words so carefully and beautifully that I really was reminded throughout my reading of how writing truly is an art. Not a single word is wasted on any page of this book.
Despite the fact that the intended audience is younger secondary readers, the writing entranced me from the beginning. There is no word in this novel that does not serve some purpose, that was not carefully plucked from the English language mindfully.
Even without endless paragraphs of streaming description, I was able to visualize stronger images from Ness’s writing than I do from most novels three times its size.
I’m not sure how else to say it, but Ness’s writing is powerful.
Beyond the beauty of the language is the story itself. A Monster Calls is a poignant story about Conor, a boy whose mother is dealing with a life-threatening illness. Rather than face the severity of the situation, Conor focuses on his own self-sufficiency, so she can focus on getting well.
That’s when the monster calls.
While most boys would be terrified of seeing a real, in-the-flesh monster, Conor is unimpressed. There are, after all, more terrifying sights in this life than a measly tree-monster.
Taken aback at Conor’s flippant reaction, the monster makes a deal with him. He will tell Conor three stories, and after Conor will share his truth–the nightmare that has been plaguing him since his mother started treatments.
If Conor can’t tell his own horrific story, then the monster will eat him alive.
A Monster Calls is a story about growing up, about grief, and real, crippling fear that haunts us in true life. It’s a story about being human. About anger and family and friendship.
The writing and the compelling story would be enough to make this book a must-have on your classroom shelves. But there’s more. There’s the art.
A Monster Calls is the first novel to win both the Carnegie Medal for literature and the Kate Greenway Medal for illustration. The artwork is dark and savage and creates the perfect background for the story itself.
Though the illustrations are black and white, they are vivid. Together the images and the words weave a story that will entrance all young adolescent readers. Told like a bedtime story, this is one that grapples with serious issues in a way that is sensitive to child psyches.
You’ll want a few copies on your classroom library shelves.
Who’s the Ideal Reader for A Monster Calls?
As I mentioned earlier, the student who recommended this book to me, who adored it, is a bright young woman who is motivated, intelligent, and mature beyond her years.
But I think A Monster Calls has a rare kind of universal appeal.
The images are captivating and the writing sparse and spaced out, which I think make it perfect for reluctant readers or ELL students. Students who are overwhelmed by “big” books will find the brevity and illustrations of A Monster Calls comforting. But they’ll be met with world-class writing.
I think this book has so much to offer and deals with ideas that are so human that is would easily make a great whole-class book or read aloud. For middle school, for high school, for struggling students, and as enrichment for the advanced.
I’m struggling to think of a type of reader who won’t find something to adore about the novel.
A Monster Calls: The Facts
Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Fantasy, horror
Setting: An English town
Main Character: Conor, a young boy whose mother is suffering from a terminal illness
Page Numbers: 205
I highly recommend purchasing A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. First, read it for yourself. Then, share it with your students.
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