"A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness [PG Review]

 Review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, recommendations for parents

{This is a Parental Guidance review, and contains spoilers}

Book Facts:

  • Illustrated by Jim Kay

  • Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

  • Children's Fiction

  • Published May, 2011 by Walker Books

  • 214 pages

  • Carnegie Medal

  • Greenaway Medal

  • British Children's Book of the Year

  • Booklist "Top of the List" 2011

How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen? (p. 191 A Monster Calls)

I started reading A Monster Calls with a few preconceived notions based on the cover and the inside blurb. Titled like a monster book, the cover dark and ominous like a monster book, and illustrated like a monster book. Hmmmm, must be about monsters. . .

Instead, I found the story to be a well written allegory that explores the contradictory nature of grief.

Synopsis of A Monster Calls:

Conor has realistic, terrifying nightmares about a yew tree in his backyard. It invades his mind and his room, demanding that he listen to three tales. It also informs Conor that the fourth tale will be his to tell. It will hold a truth that he hasn't been able to admit to himself.

Conor is also dealing with the fact that his mother has cancer. The treatments are not working as well as they have in the past, and Conor refuses to acknowledge the reality of the situation.

At school he is bullied by students and coddled by teachers. His father lives in America and has a new family. His grandmother is not very grandmotherly. And at regular intervals, the yew tree walks and tells him another story that helps him learn to cope with the coming tragedy, until it is finally time for Conor to tell the fourth tale.

I wouldn't want to give any more detail than that, because this book needs to be experienced. Having lost my own father when I was 12, I could recall quite clearly all those conflicting emotions.


A Monster Calls explores themes that make great conversation starters with kids:

  • Laying blame when bad things happen

  • How others react to tragedy

  • The difference between thought/emotions and actions

  • Dealing with grief and loss

  • How shared sorrow can create an unexpected bond

The book's black and white drawings by Jim Kay give A Monster Calls a dark atmosphere of impending grief, but they are also appealing to look at.

The Author's Note is an interesting read, telling the story behind the idea and inspiration for this this book. From an article in The Telegraph-

Patrick Ness, was passed the baton of an idea from a previous Carnegie Medal-winner, Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer in 2008. . . Although Ness wrote a book that was very much his own, the spirit of Dowd was in the book, and in the illustrations by Jim Kay.

Sensitive, Mature, or Objectionable Content:

  • Death: Conor's mother has terminal cancer, and her treatments are no longer working; her death is imminent.

  • Conflict: Conor is bullied at school, he trashes his grandmother's sitting room and destroys her favorite clock in a fit of anger. Conor is bitter at his father for having a family of his own and in essence abandoning him.

  • Language: Conor uses the word 'dammit' once.

A Monster Calls has received quite a bit of recognition in the literary world:

You can read more about the author Patrick Ness and illustrator Jim Kay at:

The Guardian- "How we made A Monster Calls" Publisher's Weekly- "A Monster Calls Wins Carnegie and Greenaway Medals"