I can not remember the last time a book made me cry. Books often sadden me and leave me feeling verklempt, but I can't remember the last time a book caused streaming down my cheeks, concerning and then amusing my husband, tears. Patrick Ness did that with this book.
A Monster Calls is about a boy named Conor. Conor's mother is undergoing treatment for cancer. Instead of getting better though, she is getting worse. At school Conor has become nearly invisible. At home he is helpful but dreads the interference of his grandmother and the allusions to a time when Conor might be seeing her on a more regular basis. And Conor is having a recurring nightmare that is causing him to lose sleep. Then one night at 12:07 Conor gets a visit from a Monster. He is not the monster Conor fears, though he is certainly monstrous. The Monster has come to tell him stories. Three stories in fact. And then Conor must tell him a story containing the terrible truth that he fears more than anything.
This book is beautiful. Gut wrenchingly, soul shatteringly beautiful. The truth is nothing that can be said about this book will come close to the experience of it. Conor is the sort of character who does some unlikeable things while remaining incredibly likeable. The starkness of his pain and the expression of his emotions make him highly sympathetic. His story is stark in its dark reality but never melodramatically overdone. As for the Monster and his stories I think Charlotte worded my feelings perfectly in her review, "I don't know exactly what the monster's stories mean -- every time I've read them they speak differently to me. And I don't really know what the monster means either..." Here is what the Monster has to say about himself (this also demonstrates the beauty of the language of the novel), Who am I? the monster repeated still roaring. I am the spine that the mountains hang upon! I am the tears that the rivers cry! I am the lungs that breathe the wind! I am the wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly! I am the stag, the mouse, and the fly that are eaten! I am the snak e of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O'Malley. The book is like that, intense and gripping, all the way through.
I'm not really sure how to categorize this book. It is not a "children's book", despite its child protagonist. It is a book about humanity that could be read and appreciated by any human, child or adult. If they are willing and can handle it. I would be careful who I recommended it to, no matter their age. All of us have witnessed the ravages of cancer in some way. It is too prevalent for anyone to miss. Everyone has not had the up close and personal horror of this story. For those who have reading it may be cathartic. I can see it having the opposite effect too though. Words are powerful and I am always very aware of that when recommending books like this, where they are wielded so well and are so piercing.