I always cringe when I hear a parent say to his or her child, "There are no such thing as monsters." I cringe because as adults in truth we know that there are monsters in the world. They may not be hiding under our beds or in our closets, but there are monsters out there just the same.
In A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Conor who is thirteen-years-old is being visited by a monster. His monster is the yew tree behind his house come to life. He is sure he must be dreaming when the monster calls his name, when it smashes a hole in the side of his house, when it tells him stories he doesn't understand. He must be dreaming because monsters aren't real, right?
Conor's mother is sick. She doesn't have a cold or a sore throat, she is the kind of sick that steals away her strength, her energy, and her hair. Conor wants her to get better and he believes she will, but he is haunted by a nightmare that the author won't share with his readers until the very end. His nightmare is where the real monster lives and Conor couldn't be more afraid.
It has been well established here that I am a crier, however today I am in real danger of dehydration. We know that a parent's illness is hard on a child, but this book explores what that must feel like to the child. Children become afraid and telling them to be brave in a situation that even the adults don't have enough courage to face is unfair. Children become angry and they should be allowed to express it. Children feel isolated when the adults become too wrapped up in their own grief to help that child navigate so difficult a road. Acting as if everything will be okay, as if there is nothing wrong is not helpful in the least. In the end, it is the truth that helps Conor face his monster.
I'm not sure I can tell you who should read this book. It is written for children, but I suppose as a parent I prefer to keep my children from knowing about the real monsters in the world, at least as long as I can. Adults will benefit from the reading, if for nothing other than the reminder that children have feelings as complex as any adult. A Monster Calls is beautifully written and the illustrations are dark and a little scary, just as they should be. Grief and loss are complicated topics and they are handled very well here. I would love to hear if you read this one. I would love to hear how it touches you.