Book Review: A Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness & Siobhan Dowd

Genre: Children’s fiction, horror, fantasy.

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.

A Monster Calls
is a work of art. I’m not a prolific children’s books reader; I enjoy many young adult books but I often fail to fully appreciate novels written for a much younger age group. A Monster Calls is an exception to this rule. The novel blends realistic fiction and fantasy to create an unforgettable, inspiring novel.

In A Monster Calls, a young boy attempts to come to terms with his mother’s illness and inevitable death through a monster appearing in tree-form. It is beautifully written and Ness expertly describes what one might be going through in this situation. The fantasy element added intrigue and excitement to the story as well as being an instrument through which we learn that…. Well, no. I’m going to have to let you find that out for yourself.

The original story idea came from children’s author Siobhan Dowd but she passed away after being diagnosed with cancer before she had a chance to write it herself. Patrick Ness was asked to turn her work into a book. He states that he wanted to write “a book that Siobhan would like” and I believe he’s succeeded. A Monster Calls is a beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated novel about grief, loss and death.

The novel itself is fantastic but I really must emphasise how much Jim Kay’s design and illustrations add to this book. I’ve often commented on how the reading experience of print books and ebooks are not that different. I stand by this for the majority of novels, but I failed to take into account books like this – books that are a work of art. It is something that technology is unable to stand up against. The illustrations are breathtaking – Jim Kay did a brilliant job. It really makes me wish that all novels had illustrations. I couldn’t wait to turn each page to find out what happened next in the story but also because I was eager to view each striking, haunting image. The attention to detail is impeccable and it really makes for a memorable book. I debated whether to buy this on the Kindle or to get the hardcover and I’m really glad that I went with the print book. The illustrations are not included in the ebook version and this is a terrible shame. A Monster Calls something that I hope to pass down when I have children and I can just imagine us reading the book together at bedtime.

The story screams ‘Patrick Ness’. The way he is able to describe grief and pain, and his use of imagery, is honest and beautiful. I adored Conner, our main character, and I was with him every step of the way, throughout his confusion, anger and sadness. I had to fight back tears at the end of the book. The addition of the ‘monster’ may sound silly and infantile as I’m describing it but it’s essential to the plot – it’s not just a ‘monsters under the bed’-type story. The monster is terrifying at times but also is a unique character that serves a positive purpose.

I’ve only read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and so this may be a little premature, but I think fans of Gaiman would love this book. I felt that both the story and the black & white illustrations were of a similar style – a children’s story with an important message that can be enjoyed and appreciated by people of all ages. It’s a book that you’ll cherish for a long, long time.

Read the first chapter of A Monster Calls over at Guardian Books.

My Rating: ★★★★★

10 thoughts on “Book Review: A Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay

  1. […] am also a sucker for illustrations in books (e.g. A Monster Calls). I really love them if they’re done as well as they are in this book. Liesl & Po has […]

  2. […] also recently discovered that I am able to appreciate children’s/middle grade fiction such as A Monster Calls, Liesl & Po, and Eight […]

  3. I want a copy of this book so badly! It looks so beautiful, and I don’t just mean physically. I can’t wait until it comes out in the US (next week).

  4. […] A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness I was also prejudiced against children’s fiction, dismissing it as “no longer for me”. A Monster Calls showed me that this was completely irrational as many children’s novels (or “middle grade” to you Americans) are wonderful, refreshing, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. I particularly enjoyed the huge part that the illustrations play in the book. It’s a beautiful novel and I’m glad that I own it. […]


    i read it a few months ago, i dont know how Patrick Ness does such amazing work, he’s now my favourite author.

  6. […] A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson Ashfall by Mike Mullin Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock The Book Thief by Markus Zusak Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan Delirium by Lauren Oliver Divergent by Veronica Roth The Fault in Our Stars by John Green Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness The Maze Runner by James Dashner The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton Paper Towns by John Green The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith Unwind by Neal Shusterman […]

  7. I agree, Jim Kay’s illustrations are stunning, I think I liked them as much as I liked the story. The drawings are so grotesque and haunting. I love the one where the monster is leaning into the house leering.

  8. […] is stunning. Check out the images Stacey and Pretty Books posted of the exterior and interior here. I want that beautiful hardcover version for my own […]

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