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Review: A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

Genre: Fiction / Young Adult Published: Walker Books, may 2011 Rating: 5/5 stars, all-time favorite

“Don't think you haven't lived long enough to have a story to tell.”

This is a book that is extremely close to my heart, maybe closer than any other book on my shelves. If I had to choose 1 all-time favorite book I would struggle hard, but I am fairly sure this would be it. It is one of those books that defines a five-star read for me: it hit me on a personal level and I am not able to find any major flaws with it. It has helped me through a lot, even years after the fact, and I will forever be grateful for that. Instead of writing pages and pages about the sheer brilliance of this book (which believe me, I could), I will try to keep it as concise as possible. Here is what you need to know:

About the book: A Monster Calls is the story of Connor, a thirteen year old boy who is about to lose his mother. Connor and his mother both know this to be the truth, yet it is too painful to openly talk about it. Both talk around it, deny it, or don’t talk at all.

One night, at seven minutes past midnight, Connor wakes up to find a monster at his window. This is the start of a strange and beautiful “friendship”, in which the monster helps Connor, in exchange for one thing: the truth.

A few sentences about me: - I lost my mother to a terminal illness when I was 13 - I am very familiar with cancer: I have both personally, as well as in my family experienced it. - I have a hard time crying. Not just over books, but in general. There are 2 books I can remember to have made me physically cry since I was 13. - This book made me bawl my eyes out 4 TIMES, including once in public, over the course of 3 (re-)reads.

My experience with the book: I have never before (or since) felt so understood by a book before. I remember vividly putting this book down a few times while reading and literally thinking “this is MY story. THIS is what it felt like”. It does three things that I rarely see in books on the subject:

1. There are a ton of books (even YA and middlegrade books) about grief, yet almost all of them seem to deal with the grief that follows a death, not the grief that precedes an imminent one, which is a whole other beast in its own right. A Monster Calls tackles the grieving period leading up to a loss, and does it in a supreme way.

2. It doesn’t underestimate thirteen year-olds, and the complex feeling that they experience. Kids in these situation (especially smart kids, like Connor) will understand so much more than adults think they will. A child’s grief is often discredited as being a kind of simple sadness that they will get over, because they are too young to understand the full depth of loss. Let me tell you, that that’s as far from the truth as you will get. If anything, a child’s experience with death and grief is more intense, and more complex. A Monster Calls does a perfect job of recognizing that.

3. Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd DO NOT HOLD BACK. Let me tell you from a place of experience: this type of life event is ugly, messy and often very dark. You will think and do things that you hate yourself for, even years down the road.

A Monster Calls is brutally honest, yet so loving towards all its flawed characters, in a way that is hard to find in adult literature, let alone YA or middlegrade.

I can honestly say that this book helped me accept some things and made me feel less alone, even six years after my mothers death. Even if you have not experienced anything like this personally, I would 100% recommend this book, just for its sheer amazing characters, atmosphere and storytelling. All the stars and praise for both Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd: I wish I could thank them both for writing this book. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

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