by Patrick Ness, 2011
First, let me just say, do not read this book in public. I wish someone had given me that warning before I decided to read/listen to this during my Amtrak ride over Christmas, where I was failing miserably at not openly weeping as the story came to its close. Second, I will say that you will probably benefit from not knowing too much about the story going in, as I did not and I feel my ignorance made it just that much more affecting. Read reviews sparingly. Third, I scooped up the audio version as one of Audible’s Daily Deals and I honestly don’t know if I would have wept quite so much had I read it without the stellar performance of Jason Isaacs (aka Lucius Malfoy). I highly recommend it.
I don’t want to say too much about this book, as it’s hard to discuss it properly without revealing too much of what makes it so spectacular. It is, overarchingly, a story about grief. It is a story about 13-year-old Conor O’Malley, who suffers from nightmares and is visited by the titular monster who takes the form of the yew tree in Conor’s back yard. It is about guilt and anger and remorse. It is not about right and wrong – it is about the grey areas that live in between.
What makes A Monster Calls so frightfully impactful is that Ness manages to avoid the saccharine trappings that so frequently permeate stories where we know Something Bad is going to happen. We may, in a sense, pity Conor and his plight, but it’s more the overwhelming sense of identification with this young teenager’s emotional peril that sucks our hearts dry. These are very adult feelings and this is a very adult situation and even if we’ve been fortunate enough not to have been in these specific Conor-shaped shoes, we have all found ourselves in some way sharing Conor’s thoughts. That Ness does not rely on pulling these obvious heartstrings for emotional weight, but instead mines the darkness where none of us wants to go, shows not only his incredible ability as a writer, but also his respect for the subject at hand. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a story quite like this, told quite this way.
That’s as much as I’ll give you. Just know that the meaning within this slim volume speaks louder than the words on the page. It is every bit as breathtaking as it’s been made out to be.