Short Saturday: A Monster Calls

Last Saturday I reported on a study from the University of Toronto that has shown those who read fiction are demonstrably changed by it. I’ve been reading fiction so long I don’t really know myself any other way, but I can say I have been profoundly touched by some stories.

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which is a letter written by an aging father to his young son, for example. I mentioned The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery) last week; it made me cry because I was totally surprised and dismayed by an unexpected twist. But Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is something altogether different.

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

Conor was awake when it came.

He’d had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare. The one he’d been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with—

… He’d told no one about the nightmare. Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fornightly (or so) phone call, definitely not his grandma, and no one at school. Absolutely not.

As the story goes on, we see Conor interact with each of these people. And the monster. It is pitch perfect.

Stop this, Conor O’Malley, the monster said, gently. This is why I came walking, to tell you this so you may heal. You must listen.

Conor swallowed again. “I’m listening.”

You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.

There was a long silence as Conor re-caught his breath.

“So what do I do?” he finally asked.

You do what you did just now, the monster said. You speak the truth.

“That’s it?”

You think it is easy? The monster raised two enormous eyebrows. You were willing to die rather than speak it.

Conor looked down at his hands, finally unclenching them. “Because what I thought was so wrong.”

It was not wrong, the monster said. It was only a thought, one of a million. It was not an action.

A Monster Calls is billed as YA (for twelve and up, according to the publisher) and the protagonist is thirteen; it is filled with dramatic artwork. And yet the central truth—the truth the monster demands Conor tell in order to be free of him—is a message for all ages. It is a profoundly human message.

This is a beautiful book. The writing is gorgeous. You should read it.

A Monster Calls, illustrated by Jim Kay, is the first book in the history of the prestigious Carnegie and Greenaway medals to win both awards.  Patrick Ness also becomes only the second author to win the Carnegie award in consecutive years.

Tweet:  #AMonsterCalls is a fantastic book. Read it. 

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    […] So perhaps I’ve convinced you … but … what should you blog about, O Author? Remember your tribe wants to know more about you, and start there. You can decide how much you want to divulge. You can tell funny stories about your family, for example. Or you can just reveal little pieces of your day and leave the fam out of it. A writer friend of mine posts, on occasion, character studies. This is stuff that will never end up in the actual novel; she’s just working it out in her mind and on the page. It gives her something to post and yet she’s not giving any fiction away for free. (Generally speaking, I would never advise you to blog your book.) Some folks sprinkle in quotes they find inspirational. I often quote passages from books I’m reading. […]

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