A Monster Calls is a beautiful, original illustrated story. After midnight, a monster visits Conor, a boy who is coping with his terminally ill mother. The monster is wild and ancient, neither good nor bad. It demands Conor tell him the hard truth after he shares three stories with him.
The cover may fool you. When I first saw it, I thought it was going to be a scary, eerie read. But it’s not. It’s a modern fairytale, something new and unique. It teaches readers that life is complex. It’s not black and white. No one is completely good or evil. The cover is also a small glimpse into how an emotional story and expressive art work beautifully together in this novel. The pacing is wonderful too. There’s never a dull moment, everything word holds significance and weight.
The monster was a very cool concept, something I haven’t seen before in a story. Both Conor and the reader aren’t quite sure what to make of the monster, sometimes feeling threatened and then not. The stories the monster shares with Conor seem like fairytales we’ve heard before, but nothing is what it seems. For example, a prince turns out to the villain and a witch is both victim and scapegoat.
I also thought it was daring and humorous that Conor tested his boundaries with the monster. He’d act defiant, questioning the monster’s stories, which in return would get him warning growls from the monster. Conor’s story reflects the struggles everyday people have dealing with dying loved ones. He copes with his own sadness and grief either emotionally or physically. He tries to get his anger out by destroying his grandmother’s personal belongings or fighting kids at school. He finally comes to terms that his mother is dying when he admits to himself that he wishes she would die so he wouldn’t feel so hopeless and she wouldn’t have to suffer anymore.
I personally think this book can help introduce young children to the concept of death and dying. Kids are smart enough to know when something is wrong. Conor’s family – mother, father, and grandmother – do more harm than good, keeping the truth from him rather than have a healthy conversation about his mother’s cancer and her pending death. This story hopefully encourages parents to be open with their children.
A Monster Calls, even though is an illustrated story, isn’t just written for children, but it can enjoyed by anyone. You can enjoy the illustrations for hours and the story will stick with you long after you finish reading it.