I saw a book with a monster in the cover. I saw a book with “monster” in the title. I saw a book that was popular.
And I never bothered to find out what it was about.
“I should be more open”, I said. “Try new things,” I said. “Expand your horizons,” I said. Oh yeah. Read the kinds of books I never would have had I not joined this wonderful community. Which has been a largely successful modus operandi in my three years, here. Even when I’ve read terrible or uninteresting books, the act of reading different things has deepened my appreciation the types of books I generally do enjoy.
So, this isn’t a monster book. And it’s not a horror story for young adults. Neither is it The Iron Giant, but set in England with a monster instead of Cold War America with a robot. When the Monster Calls is about an adolescent coming to terms with the death of his mother.
Guys. I shed all the tears for this book. All of them. I shed so many tears that I used up my tear quota and then tapped into yours. I shed so many tears I had to replenish my electrolytes. I shed so many tears I have permanent rivulets tracking the length of my face.
Acclaimed writer Siobhan Dowd began working on this novel while suffering from terminal breast cancer. She wasn’t able to finish the story before dying in 2007, so her editor, who had also worked with Patrick Ness, reached out to him with the offer of finishing the work.
Conor O’Malley has been haunted by a nightmare for months. He wakes one night to find the giant yew tree in his backyard has manifested as a green man-type monster. The monster promises to tell him three stories, but that he must receive one, in turn, from Conor. If the story is untrue, the monster will eat him. Meanwhile, Conor has run in to problems at school. He’s being bullied, and his best friend spread the word that Conor’s mother has terminal cancer. But Conor is in denial about his mother’s illness. To make matters worse, Conor’s father lives in America and has a new family, leaving Conor to the care of his grandmother. Things aren’t going well for Conor, in other words. His mother’s dying, he’s alienated from (and bullied by) his peers, and doesn’t have family to lean on.
The story is pushed along by the green man, who is forcing Conor to confront realities he’d sooner ignore.
This story is powerful without being heavy-handed. Emotions drive this story, but it never dips into sentimentality or melodrama. But, for all that, this is about a 13 year old and his dying mother, so, whatever else you might do, don’t go into this expecting anything less than to lose your body weight in tears.
And don’t think this is simply a book about some kid and his monster friend. Like I did. Because you won’t be ready for it.
This has been reviewed 12 times for the CBR, and has an average rating of 4.18.