[WAAARNING!!! SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK ‘A Monster Calls’, MAYBE THE MOVIE TOO, I DUNNO, I AINT SEEN IT]
A Monster Calls drowns you in an ocean of tears. It forces you beneath the waves, ties weights to your feet, watches you struggle for air with perfect passivity. Then it gives you a raft. Just a small one, with barely enough room to move. But it’s still a raft.
Patrick Ness is the best. A monster calls is even better. The beginning of the book takes great pains to explain how the novel came to be, and Siobhan Dowd deserves recognition for her part, however big or small. What they’ve created with this novel is, for me at least, the greatest self-help book never written. It’s a story first and foremost, but outside of that, outside of Conner and his life, it ends up being just another of the monsters tales.
Except this tale is for us. All of us. For me and you and our children, should we decide to plant any. For our family and peers and friends, should we choose raze any. For ourselves, most of all, because who else can understand it the same way we do?
That’s the hardest part of loving this novel. I’ve given it to friends, and I’ve asked them with eager anticipation, “how hard did it crush you?” The unfortunate truth is, I don’t think it crushed them very much at all. I don’t think they broke under its weight, much to my dismay. So why, then, do I cry every time I get to the last pages? Every single time?
Because it’s my tale. Conner’s truth is just another story, and this time it’s a story for me. It’s a truth I never knew needed to hear, and truth I go back to nearly every day. It’s okay to think these things. It’s okay. It might not be nice, it certainly isn’t good. But it’s okay.
When I look at my friends, and wish they were as hurt by this novel as me, it’s because I worry we all need this life raft. Maybe we don’t. Maybe it’s the sort of thing everyone does need, but only at certain times in their life. Whatever it is, I know this story is an important one. I know it with every fibre of my being. Because it told me I didn’t need to hate myself. It told me it was okay to think terrible things. It told me this in the most powerful way possible. It told me by hurting me.
A Monster Calls is in itself the titular monster. It arrives at your doorstep, all pages and words, like novels often are. It sits there, patient, all the way up until you read the first paragraph. Then it rips into you, scares you, talks to you. In the end you come out of the other side a little stronger, a little safer, a little more ready for whatever the future will hold. It’s the monster, and we’re all Conner. We need this story, because it’s the truth, because it’s our truth. We need this story. We need it now, and we need it forever. I need it. So yeah. I think that means it’s pretty good.