Family Reads: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they’re reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister select a book for us to read and discuss.


Sister: I previously read Patrick Ness’ the Chaos Walking trilogy and More Than This. I kept walking past A Monster Calls at work and thought it looked really interesting. A co-worker highly recommended it, which finally convinced me to purchase it.

We both give this book 4.5 stars. You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve read the book (spoilers ahead!). Here’s our discussion on the illustrations, the role of the monster, and the intensity of the story.

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 – (1)


Sister: I think the illustrations are really cool. I could see why it won an award for them! 
Reno: Yeah, I was thinking about why I like them – I enjoy dark images with lots of textures and layers. 
Sister: Agreed. I also like gray scale illustrations; I think it’s cooler to imagine the colours than to be shown them. 
Reno: Plus, these illustrations are actually scary at times! When you see the whole monster on that first two-page spread, I was like “OMGGGGG he’s coming in!!!” I didn’t expect to see an actual big scary monster. 
Sister: I saw a non-illustrated edition at work and I thought, “What is the point?” The illustrations add so much to the story. I wonder if the movie cinematography will match the atmosphere of the book.


Reno: I was surprised that there were ‘two’ monsters.
Sister: You don’t think they’re the same?
Reno: *considers this new idea*…I GUESS SO. I guess they could be the same! But what I meant was, you know at the beginning the boy is afraid it’s the monster from his dream but then he’s not scared because “Oh, it’s just a tree.” I was expecting the monster of the title to be the one from his dream. I was surprised when there was also an actual monster. When Conor’s dream monster finally appears, I thought “Here’s the monster I expected.” But then, like you said, maybe they’re the same monster…
Sister: I only thought about that once I finished the book and considered it from a certain religious perspective. As in – if I think the monster is God, and I’m the sort of person who think God has a hand in everything, then God is also cancer/the monster pulling his mom over the cliff? It was just something I thought of afterwards.
Reno: Ahh, right. I don’t think they’re the same, though, especially because of this paragraph.
Sister: I don’t actually think so either; it’s just one theory I thought of. I wonder who’s voicing the monster?
Reno: I don’t know…Liam Neeson or someone haha. Like Aslan, but – what’s his movie about kidnapping? – in a more serious crackly voice.
Sister: I did imagine a kind of crackly voice, though. Cos he’s a tree! *Googles film* Ah, the movie was written by Patrick Ness. Liam Neeson is the monster!
Reno: OMG are you serious?! That is so exciting! High five! Hahaha. I was just joking; maybe I read that somewhere earlier and forgot about it.

Story Intensity

Reno: Did you cry at any part? I mean, even just the quiet kind where your nose gets sniffly and tingly and your eyes sting and then suddenly your vision blurs.
Sister: I don’t cry at books…
Reno: I had a moment with this book. I think the passage where Conor finally admitted his fear to himself might have been that moment.
Sister: Yeah, this story is intense. It’s a veery real thing for everyone whose experience a loved one dying, I think. You just want them to go because you want their pain to end, you want them to die so it stops but you feel bad thinking ‘I want you to die’. I think it’s relatable for a lot of people. I now recommend this book when I have customers tell me ‘I need to talk to my kids about cancer’.
Reno: That’s not something I’ve ever really experienced so I can’t pinpoint that feeling but I did find the story SO SAD when I was reading it. Sad, and very intense.
Sister: Yeah, I was very ignorant of the outside world while reading.
Reno: I was happy his mom didn’t die before he got there. I was relieved. That would have been too nasty. But then, ‘in real life’, what are the chances that he would have made it? She could have passed at any time. But then again, you often hear stories about holding on for their loved ones.

Reno: I’ve read a few things (mostly promotional material for this book) that refer to it being ‘painfully funny’. Was this book funny at any point?
*long pause*
Sister: Nooooo?
Reno: I didn’t think so either! There were a few tiny moments of “Oh, haha.” for some of the monster’s dialogue.
Sister: Cos he acknowledges the boy is being a bit bratty.
Reno: Yup, but not enough to call it ‘painfully funny.’ I suppose the marketing department just don’t want it to come across as too depressing. Even though it’s sad, I don’t think it necessarily needs to humour to make it less sad. There is redemption in this story that prevents it from being too bleak.

At the end of our discussion, we wondered about Siobhan Dowd (who had the initial idea for this book) and what kind of life she lead. We learnt that she passed away from cancer after a three year battle. Have you read this book or any other that deals with a dying parent? Will you see the film version when it’s released in October?