Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Monster Calls


Book Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness (original idea by Siobhan Dowd)
Date Started: March 5th 2016
Date Completed: March 6th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Star
Final Rating: Five stars

A Monster Calls wasn't what I expected, and it made me feel safe and comforted in a story I would never normally be. To put it simply, it's a beautiful book that's tough because you're so close to the characters, whether you can directly empathise with their situation or not.

The writing is very well done. Simple and honest, partly because of the younger target audience, but also because Ness uses the reader to add the real emotion and relatability themselves. The Monster doesn't teach us 'moral lessons,' but it asks us to question ourselves along with Conor, and in the end its not just our young protagonist who he's tried to help. It takes a really talented author to be able to encourage the reader to do the hard work without them realising it.

I absolutely adored the fairytale element in this book (I know, of course I did); it was exactly the kind of magical realism I love. I have to say, I was thrown back into reading Skellig by David Almond when I was about thirteen, and it's actually made me want to go back and read it again - I think a lot of things went over my head. But Ness' use of it is really why I love the genre so much: you can tell so much about a person and a story that the reader can just instinctively pick up without being literal. It gives stories a poetic effect, but it also makes dealing with some tougher subjects a lot easier over various age brackets, and without it consuming every element of the story.
And this story is tough - but it's bearable. I think that's really important for younger audiences to be able to be aware of illnesses like cancer, but also to understand a little clearer how people react to these things and how it doesn't make you a bad person. The whole point of this book is that nothing is ever black and white: it's our automatic reaction to blame someone, or find a clear-cut answer to why things are happening (so we can blame someone else, really), but that's not how it works and that's okay. The ending is really key to this, and I think it's the perfect way to conclude the story.

There's a nice host of characters that you'd expect in a young contemporary about illness and letting go: the fragmented family unit, additional conflict around school, maybe with a few other people dotted here and there - oh yeah, and a Monster.
Conor was a really good protagonist, and a sweet kid. The story is kind of told from his perspective, so the way he deals with things definitely echoes in the writing, but it just exaggerates how brave he is. However, it was also a really good opportunity to show that actually a lot of people in his situation don't want to be told they're brave, and don't want to get special treatment - they want people to act like normal around them, because then everything's a little less strange. Telling this partially from a young perspective really helped get this across in my opinion, and even though I do feel like sometimes giving people help when they don't necessarily want it is a good, I completely understand where Conor's coming from and the people around him weren't always the most helpful (though they did try).
I'm also going to mention The Monster, because he was definitely his own character. I suppose you could read him to be a part of Conor, or maybe Death, or whatever you want. But for me, he was The Monster, and he didn't need to be anything else. (He felt a lot like the voice inside my head if I'm honest.) And by the end I just wanted to give him a big hug. He was never evil, just scary. Because he was honest.

I read through this book in nearly one sitting (I only decided not to since I was halfway through another review, and wanted to give it this a proper one), but even in the short amount of time it took me to read this, an awful lot happens. But Ness structures it nicely: there are good lengths of chapters and each break is placed nicely so that you're able to pause the story easily, but also really want to read on.

A Monster Calls is a beautiful, heartfelt story, masterfully told - Dowd would be proud. I imagine the illustrated edition is absolutely stunning, but I think I'm happy I read the story itself first. This way I can appreciate both the writing and the images as pieces of work on their own as well as when they're complimenting each other, because I will definitely be looking at that illustrated version now that I've fallen in love with this one.

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