What does it mean when a monster shows up at your window? For our final review episode of Season 2, we discuss A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness with special guest, author Mat Larkin. We talk about the stages of grief, middle grade tropes, surprisingly therapeutic monsters, and all the feels!
Mental health issues covered: grief and its impact
Additional trigger warnings: terminal illness (cancer, chemotherapy), death of a parent, violence, and bullying.
Listen to the podcast:
About the Book
An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting – he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.
About the Author
Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Crash of Hennington, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.
He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London.
About Our Guest
Mat Larkin writes children’s adventure stories with heart. After starting out on the Zac Power junior fiction series, his debut middle-grade novel, The Orchard Underground, was voted Best Children’s Book of 2018 by Readings Books customers. His follow-up, The Chameleon Thief, will be published in March 2022, with a third to follow in 2023. Mat lives and works on unceded Wurundjeri land in Naarm-Melbourne.
A Monster Calls is heartbreaking in the best way. As a novella, it’s on the shorter side, but it packs in a lot of feelings and meaning. Patrick Ness does a beautiful job portraying the complexity of grief and people, and how it is possible to hold contradictory thoughts and feelings at the same time. We also love how the adults around Conor struggle to help him; they too are grieving and trying to keep going.
The stories-within-a-story format was used with great effect, and we loved discussing the meaning of the monster’s three stories. We enjoyed that there were no black-and-white answers. We also enjoyed that we never really found out in the end whether the monster was real or not; some things are best left a mystery. Although this is a Middle Grade book, we recommend people of all ages to read it. Priscilla particularly recommends the audiobook, narrated by Jason Isaacs – he does a brilliant job conveying the emotions of the story.
Relevant mental health resources:
- Here is a page about coping with grief, particularly in relation to cancer.
- headspace provides some information about the impact of grief on mental health and how to manage.
- What’s Your Grief provides resources and support for someone experiencing grief, someone supporting a person grieving, and professionals.
More stories like A Monster Calls:
Here are some other novels we have enjoyed that cover similar themes:
- Patrick Ness’ other books. Elise would personally recommend the Chaos Walking series and The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
- Skellig by David Almond
- They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Voices from Lived Experience
Here are some of the views we found from people about the book, or about their own experiences with grief:
- Reynje on Goodreads shared her response to A Monster Calls: “But what struck me the most about this book is that it was so terribly honest. It bravely spoke of things that are often harboured in our deepest, darkest centres – far under the surface of our outward manifestations of pain.”
- Cait on Goodreads wrote: “What Ness showed me through Conor was that it’s okay to cry while others are watching, to let them take care of me and what I’ve dealt with, for three long, and yet, at the same time, short three years. A Monster Calls was able to let me take some of the pressure and pain out of that bottle of pent-up emotions and sadness, and I can’t thank Patrick Ness and Siobahn Dowd enough for doing that for me through Conor.”
On the TBR Pile
- If you have any recommendations of books that explore similar themes, let us know!