“Stories are the wildest things of all. Stories chase and bite and hunt. -…- Stories are wild creatures. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”. This is the most heart-breaking story I’ve ever read. And trust me, there have been quite a few before this one. It won’t be a long review, simply because I firmly believe that my words won’t be enough to describe what the book has to offer. I’ll start with this: regardless of your age, read it.
A Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness and its starting point can be found in the ideas of another writer, Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before she could put the words on paper. It’s presented as a book for children, but I disagree with that label. Why? Because reading it, everyone will find something that speaks to them. And, to be honest, I don’t know how much the story would have moved me… fifteen years ago.
Meet Conor O’Malley, a thirteen year old boy who has nightmares which reveal his secret and who is visited by a monster a few minutes after midnight. But that monster is not the most frightening thing Conor has seen and they both know that. Because what could possibly be more terrifying than knowing that you will lose the most important person in your life? In this case, his mother. I can’t remember if the word cancer is ever mentioned directly, but you know right from the start that this is what the small family must face.
There’s a lot of anger pulsing within the pages of the book, pain and fear. It’s one thing to have a nightmare and to face a monster which cannot really hurt you. But what do you do when you know that your fears crawled into your life? Conor is alone when the monster comes walking. You realise that nobody is truly there for him, not because the adults don’t care, but because we are usually unable to react properly in such situations. His mother and the monster are the only ones whose words hold meaning and strength.
It’s a terribly sad tale, so my advice is this: be careful when you choose it because you won’t want to stop reading it and you’ll most probably feel like crying. However, the style makes it enjoyable, especially since you can actually visualise what is happening (Jim Kay’s illustrations are also very nice), you can step next to the protagonist. There’s angst, grief, but also humour and lessons to be remembered. The monster’s stories and the one told by Conor towards the end are quite messy and maybe even a bit harsh. I feel that a lot of people need to remember that humans are complex, that it’s not that easy or fair to label them as good or bad. “You do not write your life with words. You write it with actions“… This short quote reminded me of something similar I heard as a child and later as a teenager.
I suppose the monster itself and its words will hold a different weight for each and every reader, so you’ll forgive if I decide to keep that bit for myself. I’m not particularly interested in the upcoming film, but I’m curious to see how this character will be presented on screen: “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 snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable!“. Also, I truly enjoyed the interaction between Conor and the monster, so I hope that this aspect will be properly presented.
That being said, go… look for the story, see what it offers. And if you know of similar tales, let me know, I’d love to read them.
by Elena Atudosiei