Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #42: A Monster Calls

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #42: A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Published by Candlewick on March 12, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Horror
Pages: 206
Format: Paperback
Source: Gifted
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An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

Recommended by: Steph (Cuddlebuggery) and Bekka (Pretty Deadly Reviews)

Obviously, A Monster Calls came to me HIGHLY recommended from friends with great taste. That’s always exciting, but also a wee bit terrifying. What if I don’t like this book so many people told me was absolutely amazing? What if I have to be the black sheep, sounding my disgruntled, lonely bleat across the book blogging world? Buuuut, thankfully, that’s not an issue, because I definitely see why A Monster Calls has gathered such acclaim.

From the first few pages, the ultimate point of the novel was obvious to me. For younger readers, it could conceivably be a twisty ending, but I think most adults will see where things are headed. This is, however, not a bad thing. There’s a lot of value in the telling of the story, and it’s not meant to be a shock. In fact, I think the knowing what’s coming and hoping for something else is the emotional response which Ness hoped to evoke. The reader’s journey mirrors Conor’s.

On the surface, A Monster Calls is a fantasy horror novel. The opening scenes fit that mold perfectly as young Conor awakes to see a monster approaching his window. The yew tree across the street forms itself into a humanoid shape and comes to Conor. Having seen a worse monster, Conor’s not afraid, even when this new monster destroys his bedroom and brings Conor toward its monstrous mouth.

A Monster Calls artwork

The horror scenes form a captivating hook, luring the reader into a story of surprising depth and sadness. What soon becomes apparent, however, is that A Monster Calls is not actually a horror novel, or at least the horrors involved are ones of a real life existence, the horrors of cancer and bullying. As his mother battles cancer, Conor steps up to help keep the house clean and himself fed. He’s supportive and loving, fearful that his father in America or his grandma will try to take him away.

The dreams, which affect his reality, help him cope, even without his realizing. He runs through the phases of grief, aided by the monster. It’s magical realism at its finest. I especially loved the tales the tree told and the way that the morals of the stories were never what Conor expected. Real life doesn’t fall out into neat scenarios like fairy tales do, and Ness exhibited that so clearly with this construct.

Accompanying the sparse but powerfully evocative text are gorgeous illustrations, like the one above. Jim Kay’s illustrations fit the novel impeccably, and bring the novel to the next level. While A Monster Calls without the illustrations would still be powerful, the illustrations bump it up to epic and will help cement the story in the reader’s memory. They’re beautiful, creepy, dark and haunting.

The only reason I didn’t rate A Monster Calls any higher is that I didn’t really connect with it emotionally. Yes, Steph, I’m a robot. I did not cry, though I did feel sad for the kid. Actually, I think I came closest to crying reading Ness’ note about Siobhan Dowd at the beginning. There you have it. I’m emotionally-stunted and failed to get all of the feels from this that I probably should have. Oh well. I suppose I also would like to know a bit more about Conor’s life at the end, but I can see why it ended where it did.

So yeah, if you haven’t read this one yet, you should probably get to it soon, especially since it’s so short and easy to sneak into your reading piles. And, should you be softer-hearted than myself, you might want a box of tissues at your side.

Favorite Quote:

Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.

Up Next:

Crash Into You (Pushing the Limits #3) - Katie McGarry

The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be Crash Into You by Katie McGarry. Dana (Little Lovely Books) put this in for me to get to it earlier, which I’m thrilled about because I LOVE Katie McGarry’s books.

Want to tell me what to read? Fill out the following form with a suggestion! For more details, check this post.

27 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #42: A Monster Calls”


    I knew you would love it, but I also knew you probably wouldn’t cry. I thought it was pretty apparent what Conor’s problem was too, but I read this one during a particularly emotional part in my life. So there were lots of tears. Still, I’m happy you finally read it!

    Weren’t the illustrations the best? This is one pretty book.
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    • Christina Franke says:

      I’m a MONSTERRRRRR. Yeah, I mean I was sad for him, but I didn’t feel my heart breaking. But were it a more emotional period for me in general, I can imagine the tears.

      The illustrations are LOVELY in a really creepy way.

  2. Jenni says:

    I am going to have to re-read this one in print form because I read an ebook and it didn’t have illustrations… or if it did they sucked and I don’t remember. So happy to see that you loved this one, this was the shortest novel that has ever packed such a punch for me. I remember just thinking about the book weeks later and crying while I was doing some trivial house chore.
    Jenni recently posted…Introducing Across The WireMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Ha, see? Print books for the win! But, yeah, you might want to wait a bit. This one would hit a bit too close to home right now.

  3. I just bought this one recently and can’t wait to read it…I’ve heard such amazing things about it and it’s been forever since I’ve read a book that had illustrations, which I think is really cool. Great review!
    Miranda @ Tempest Books recently posted…Weekly Wrap-Up (#7)My Profile

  4. Angie F. says:

    I am so nervous to read this one! It sounds fantastic, but the hype does have me worried. The illustrations look great and only make me want to pick it up more!

    I don’t know…I’ll read it eventually, and I hope I cry. I love books that make me cry.
    Angie F. recently posted…2014 Review Pile Reading ChallengeMy Profile

  5. I really enjoyed this one, though it’s definitely not the horror that I had expected. I broke down at the very end, even though I couldn’t completely relate with the main character, but I just felt this well of emotions come up at his situation.

    Very happy to have read this one! Makes me want to try out more of Patrick’s books.
    Kristilyn (Reading in Winter) recently posted…Book Review: Hound Dog True by Linda UrbanMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      The story reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman. Conor’s a bit of an every-boy kind of figure. Not a super strong personality in his own right, so that you can relate to him more easily, I think. That’s why I had a bit of a disconnect, I think.

      All three of Patrick Ness’ books I’ve read have been quite different, which is fascinating. Even if his books aren’t perfect for me, he’s definitely a talent.

  6. I just got this one and – like with you – it came highly recommended. I don’t have the illustrated version (sadly) but I’m looking forward to reading it.
    Becky LeJeune recently posted…New Releases 11/12/13My Profile

  7. I haven’t read anything by Patrick Ness yet so I didn’t hesitate to purchase a signed copy at this year’s National Bookfest. I’ve heard such wonderful things about his writing and I chose this book above all others because it sounded creepy but, above all, the illustrations were haunting and simply beautiful.

    One of my closest friends who lost her mother years ago read this book and told me she bawled her eyes out. It’s definitely nice to have the heads up that it’s less of a horror book and more of an emotional one. I’ve been a bit hesitant, though, to pick it up because crying books scare me. One of these days I know I’ll get around to it, I just need to muster up the courage first…

  8. It’s okay to be a robot, I think, as long as the book made you feel SOMETHING and clearly it did, it just didn’t make you sob, that’s fine.

    So, I think I may have missed out a little bit because I listened to the audiobook version, which while awesome because Lucius Malfoy narrates it, does not have those boss looking illustrations.

    I am glad you shared that picture from the book, I think I need a physical copy.
    April Books & Wine recently posted…Moon Over Manifest | Clare Vanderpool | Audiobook ReviewMy Profile

  9. Christina Franke says:

    Ha, yeah, I know. Steph had predicted I wouldn’t cry and called me a robot, so it was an inside joke. :-p

    Lucius Malfoy narrates it? I’m not sure how I feel about that. Haha. The illustrations are totally badass.

    Be careful, though. I don’t think the new white cover edition has the illustrations.

  10. The illustrations are one of the things that make me want to read this book as soon as possible. If they are used like this, they can really complete a story and give it more impact 🙂 It’s a shame though, that you didn’t fully connected on emotional level.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Fairytale News 21. Why I love reading.My Profile

  11. Gillian says:

    ARRRGH I meant to read this last month! But time got away from me. And now I must get to this soon, because it sounds wonderful. Unlike you, Madam Robot, I’m sure I will get all the feels, because I am a marshmallow. That illustration is goooooorrrgeous. My god. I love good magical realism.
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  12. This made our TTT today as one of the books I am recommending to Nicole to read! I am with ya though, I did not cry but I did feel sad for the kid.
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  13. Tina says:

    I don’t know why I love these types of books either. I guess because they make you feel and empathize with others. I’ve always loved them though. This sounds amazing!
    Tina recently posted…Dupont Laminate FlooringMy Profile

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