A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay

by |May 12, 2011

You are only young once, but doesn’t it go on for a long time, more years than you can bear.

This is not the way my day was supposed to start, waking a couple of hours before dawn and then reading compulsively until I reached sobbing stage at the final few pages of Patrick Ness’ stunning new book. As it was, I had been up late having started, and then devoured, this visceral, original tale of love and loss, or rather the fear or loss.

A Monster Calls reminds us of what the very finest of young adult fiction can be. Its story is both imaginative and grounded, ranging from fantasy to reality. It proceeds with both inevitability and unpredictability. It is both dark and redemptive.

The experience of reading this book is augmented by its presentation. A finely produced hardback with beautiful end papers and dust jacket, the book is liberally peppered with stunning illustrations from pen and ink illustrations from Jim Kay. The illustrations are as integral to the story as the words. There is much to linger over, but I must confess that the tug of the words compelled me to keep turning those pages. Think Monster Blood Tattoo, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and the now sadly unavailable adaptation of Frankenstein by Margrete Lamond and Drähos Zak. To get an idea of what I mean, go here to see some internal page spreads.

That Patrick Ness should write another gripping tale should be no surprise. This much lauded author for young adults (Chaos Walking series) has a huge and growing following, principally because he never thinks of having to go down a register in order to write for younger people – which means of course that adults find his books equally as satsifying. The genesis of A Monster Calls is a story in itself. Ness was approached by Walker Books to flesh out a story from Siobhan Dowd’s notes, after the author’s sad and premature death from cancer.

“The thing about good ideas is that they grow other ideas”, says Ness in explanation.

“Almost before I could help it, Siobhan’s ideas were suggesting new ones to me, and I began to feel that itch that every writer longs for: the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story.

“I felt – and feel – as if I’ve been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said Go. Run with it. Make trouble….Here’s what Siobhan and I came up with. So go. Run with it. Make trouble.”

Run with it we do. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Go here to listen to Patrick Ness reading from the book and talking about it.

From the publisher:

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

From the UK reviews:

Nightmarish tale goes like a dream: a review by Daniel Hahn in The Independent

When novelist Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, she left four finished books and an idea for a fifth. Rather than let a good idea go to waste, Walker Books commissioned Patrick Ness to write it. Ness, like Dowd, is a brilliant and acclaimed creator of books for older children and young adults, but the two novelists’ voices, their concerns, their styles, are quite different. Many people – myself included – thought this a peculiar piece of casting.

Well, shows how much I know. A Monster Calls takes Dowd’s preliminary idea, and draws out of that bud a tale that has nothing of the hybrid about it. Quite the contrary: the story, the writing and Jim Kay’s pictures are a single stunning entity, organic and vital. Read the full review here

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  • May 12, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Toni, I heard Patrick speaking about writing this on the BBC “Books and Authors” podcast last week… it was sad and moving and enticing. The link’s here if anyone is interested:

  • May 12, 2011 at 10:05 am

    This sounds amazing. Thanks for the review – and thanks also to Kylie for the podcast link!

  • toniwhitmont

    May 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Thanks Kylie. He speaks well doesn’t he? No wonder he has so many fans.

    • May 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      He certainly does! I got teary listening to the interview.
      (And my pleasure Lizabelle :))

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