Reviews for Monster Calls

Booklist Reviews 2011 July #1
*Starred Review* After the stylistic feats and dumbfounding originality of Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, this follow-up effort comes as something of a surprise--an earthbound story concocted from a premise left behind by the late Siobhan Dowd. As Conor watches his mother succumb to cancer, he is pummeled by grief, anger, isolation, helplessness, and something even darker. At night, when he isn't trapped in a recurring nightmare too terrible to think about, he is visited by a very real monster in the form of a giant yew tree. The monster tells Conor three ambiguous, confusing stories, then demands a final one from the boy, one that "will tell me your truth." Meanwhile, Conor's mom tears through ineffective treatments, and Conor simmers with rage: "Everybody always wants to have a talk lately." But all that really happens is a lot of pussyfooting around the central, horrible fact that his mother is dying, and what does the monster mean about "the truth" anyway? A story with such moribund inevitability could easily become a one-note affair--or, worse, forgettable--but small, surgically precise cuts of humor and eeriness provide a crucial magnifying effect. Moreover, Ness twists out a resolution that is revelatory in its obviousness, beautiful in its execution, and fearless in its honesty. Kay's artwork keeps the pace, gnawing at the edges of the pages with thundercloud shadows and keeping the monster just barely, terribly seeable. Sidestepping any trace of emotional blackmail, Ness shines Dowd's glimmer into the deepest, most hidden darkness of doubt, and finds a path through. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
[=Inspired by an idea from]A monster spirit visits Conor to tell him three stories before Conor must tell him a fourth--the story of his recurring nightmare. The mysterious content of the nightmare physically affects Conor while revealing itself organically and in emotionally powerful ways. Kay's drawings involving the monster effectively enhance the harrowing qualities of Ness's heart-wrenching and thought-provoking narrative. Copyright 2012 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #5
Conor's mum has cancer; his father lives in America with his new family and rarely visits; he doesn't get along with his grandma who helps look after his mother; he's picked on by a bully and feels isolated from the other kids at school; and he consistently has the same nightmare that he tells no one about. No one, that is, until a monster spirit, in the form of a yew tree, comes to visit Conor (always at 12:07), to tell him three stories before Conor must tell him a fourth -- the story of his nightmare. The stories of the witch and the prince, the apothecary and the parson, and the invisible man indirectly relate to Conor's situation, but he does not realize their significance until the monster forces him to speak the thoughts he has been burying deep within himself and feeling horribly guilty over. Carnegie Medal-winner Ness's eloquent tale of pain and loss, inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd prior to her early death from cancer in 2007, is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. The mysterious content of Conor's nightmare physically affects him while revealing itself organically and in emotionally powerful ways[Tue May 3 20:02:13 2016] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. as Ness's story progresses. While some of Kay's drawings feel a bit one-dimensional and detached from the text, those involving the monster and his stories effectively capture and enhance the harrowing qualities of Ness's narrative. cynthia k. ritter Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 July #2

From a premise left by author Siobhan Dowd before her untimely death, Ness has crafted a nuanced tale that draws on elements of classic horror stories to delve into the terrifying terrain of loss.

When a monster in the form of an ancient yew tree crashes through his bedroom walls after midnight, calling his name, Conor is remarkably unperturbed—"Shout all you want," he says. "I've seen worse." Indeed he has, in a recurring nightmare of someone slipping from his grasp, a nightmare whose horror he keeps to himself. Daily life is intolerable, as everyone from teachers to bullies treats him as though he were invisible since his mother began chemotherapy. The monster tells Conor three stories before insisting that Conor tell one himself. Asserting that "stories are the wildest things of all," the monster opens the door for Conor to face the guilty truth behind his subconscious fears. Ness brilliantly captures Conor's horrifying emotional ride as his mother's inevitable death approaches. In an ideal pairing of text and illustration, the novel is liberally laced with Kay's evocatively textured pen-and-ink artwork, which surrounds the text, softly caressing it in quiet moments and in others rushing toward the viewer with a nightmarish intensity.

A poignant tribute to the life and talent of Siobhan Dowd and an astonishing exploration of fear. (Fiction. 11-14)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal BookSmack
One dark night, the yew tree outside 13-year-old Conor's window comes to life and makes a house call. The monster tells Conor three inscrutable stories and then demands from him the scariest thing of all...the truth. In his waking hours, Conor is plagued by the attention of the school bully and by the failing health of his mum. She is in the final days of her battle with cancer and prays that a new drug made, not coincidentally from yew bark, will offer a cure. It is not to be: the tree is not there to save Conor's mother but to save him from himself. This heartfelt examination of grief and anger is fitting tribute to a literary star whose light extinguished too soon; longtime human rights campaigner Siobhan Dowd published her first novel, A Swift Pure Cry, in 2006 and won the Carnegie Medal posthumously in 2009. - "35 Going on 13," Booksmack! 10/21/11 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 June #3

In his introduction to this profoundly moving, expertly crafted tale of unaccountable loss, Ness explains how he developed the story from a set of notes left by Siobhan Dowd, who died in 2007 before she had completed a first draft. "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.' " What Ness has produced is a singular masterpiece, exceptionally well-served by Kay's atmospheric and ominous illustrations. Conor O'Malley is 13. His mother is being treated for cancer; his father, Liam, has remarried and lives in America; and Conor is left in the care of a grandmother who cares more for her antique wall clock than her grandson. This grim existence is compounded by bullies at school who make fun of his mother's baldness, and an actual nightmare that wakes Conor, screaming, on a recurring basis. Then comes the monster--part human, part arboreal--a hulking yew tree that walks to his window just after midnight and tells three inscrutable parables, each of which disappoints Conor because the good guy is continually wronged. "Many things that are true feel like a cheat," the monster explains. In return for the monster's stories, Conor must tell his own, and the monster demands it be true, forcing Conor, a good boy, a dutiful son, to face up to his feelings: rage and, worse still, fear. If one point of writing is to leave something that transcends human existence, Ness has pulled a fast one on the Grim Reaper, finishing the story death kept Dowd from giving us. It is a story that not only does honor to her memory, it tackles the toughest of subjects by refusing to flinch, meeting the ugly truth about life head-on with compassion, bravery, and insight. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 September

Gr 7 Up--Conor O'Malley, 13, is having a difficult time. At school, he copes with bullying and loneliness. His father is living in America with his new family, and at home he has to contend with a recurring nightmare that torments him every night. His mother is seriously ill and undergoing painful cancer treatments. One night, he wakes up to a voice calling his name. An ancient, treelike monster, hovering over him like a sleeping giant, has come to tell him three stories. When the monster is done, he wishes for Conor to tell him a fourth tale, wanting the scariest thing of all-the truth. The wise monster's ambiguous tales contain unexpected outcomes and help demonstrate that not all stories have happy endings, but they can be more important than anything else if they carry the truth. Conor has to accept the truth about his mother's prognosis and letting go, even if it means losing her. Only then can he start to heal, without destroying himself in the process. This is an extraordinarily moving story inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd before she passed away. Kay's shadowy illustrations slither along the borders of the pages and intermingle with text to help set its dark, mysterious mood, while Conor is often seen as a silhouette. A brilliantly executed, powerful tale.--Krista Welz, North Bergen Public Library, NJ

[Page 164]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

VOYA Reviews 2011 October
Thirteen-year-old Conor is living a nightmare. His mother is dying of cancer and neither she nor he can deal with the reality of her impending absence. Conor's father, remarried and living abroad with a new wife and baby, does not have the bandwidth to handle his son's anger. To his dismay, Conor's grandmother comes to stay for the latest round of disabling treatments. Grandma, rigid in normal circumstances, attempts to hold her own grief in check by implementing strict control over Conor. If that is not enough, Conor has become a target of bullying at school where his denial and suffering combine to drive help away.  Nightly, Conor finds himself haunted by a dark and frightening monster--the incarnation of a huge yew tree from the graveyard just beyond his backyard. Defiant and skeptical, Conor struggles to make sense of the monster's visits and the three tales he shares--a process which ultimately shows Conor a path through his even darker and more frightening daily reality Ness's novella is the brainchild of Irish young adult author Siobhan Dowd, who became a victim of cancer herself in 2007. If a bit slow to get moving, the story's tone serves to put the reader squarely in Conor's shoes. Conor is not a particularly sympathetic protagonist. He is stubborn and selfish. In the end, however, the story works on many levels. Death is not fair and it does not arrive conveniently, and it is messy and confusing, ultimately leaving its victims feeling powerless.  Jim Kay's stunning illustration is a perfect complement to the text and it is quite likely what will draw readers' initial interest. In the same way that Ness captures Conor's frustration with words, one can almost feel the angry scribbling in Kay's textured use of darkness and light. This is the perfect book to put in the hands of teens unsure how to approach a grieving friend.--Laurie Vaughan.O'Connor, George. Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory. First Second/Macmillian, 2011. 80p. $9.99 Trade pb. ISBN 978-1-59643-433-2. 3Q 3P S Graphic FormaPart of the Olympians series, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory recasts Hera as more complex than a vengeful, jealous wife. This graphic novel uses a skillful dynamic of text and image to present an outspoken, independent, and formidable goddess, detailing her relationship with Heracles, the son of Zeus and one of his many human mistresses. Over half of the text describes Heracles's adventures, from his infancy and role in the creation myth of the Milky Way to his completion of the twelve labors and eventual ascension into Mount Olympus. Throughout this journey, frames feature Hera's watchful observation, revealing her reactions and her role in the difficult path that makes him a hero and eventual deity. By complicating this relationship, the graphic novel offers both a uniquely visual retelling and a distinctive take on Hera's motivations. Furthermore, the text is ideal for classroom use, providing educational notes, character profiles, discussion questions, a bibliography, and reading recommendations. The mix of modern language into the classic tale, the story's adventure and romantic intrigue, and the realistic rather than cartoony image style will draw older teens interested in Greek mythology. Although at times, some gender stereotypes emerge in both image and text, the graphic novel's merit as an appealing educational tool outweighs its shortcomings. Through this gripping visual portrayal, readers can come to understand a different side of the goddess and why Heracles's name means "the glory of Hera." --Meghann Meeusen 5Q 4P M J S Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.