A Monster Calls

Style: Average

Attitude: Some Care Needed

This review was contributed by Stephen de la B

In Brief: How a young boy copes with the impending death from cancer of his mother.

Author: Patrick Ness

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Contemporary

Genres:  BoysCoping withFamilyFantasyGrittyGrowing-UpMoral IssueSchoolThought-provoking


  • Conor, an only
  • Conor's Mum, dying of cancer;
  • Conor's Dad, absent in a second relationship, who
  • Granny, who will look after Conor when hisMum
  • A friend (G) at school


Conor is a boy who cannot accept the reality of his mother dying. He is visited at night by a Local yew tree ( the Monster ) who tells him a number of sensitive life-guiding stories ( not always consonant with Christian sexual mores!) and asks Conor to tell him his own life story. Mum is a kind and loving person, but Granny , though kind, is not a sympathetic person, and Conor’s life is made miserable by a bully and sycophants at school. The Yew-Tree’s plan eventually works and Conor is induced to ‘let go’ of his Mother, although the book does not include her death. Conor is reconciled to living with his Granny. It may be that his acceptance of reality strengthens his character vis-à-vis school life, but this is not mentioned.


Everything connected with Mum’s illness and bereavement is very sensitively told, while inadequate family situation is implied, as is the total failure of the school to cope with bullying. The use of the fantasy and fable as a source of moral education is good, but absence of counselling ( by any but the Yew Tree ) seems odd, although in a situation (slightly older) this reviewer did not receive helpful counselling. Note the absent father, too. A positive point is the lesson that superficial incompatibility between Conor and Granny) is more apparent than real.

This book was required reading for 11-year-olds during the holiday preceding entry to a secondary school. An adult reader felt that this was negative and disturbing. I had experienced the loss of my mother during adolescence could feel much sympathy with Conor, even though being surrounded by a large and happy family. However bereavement does happen to children, and more and more children are growing up outside a traditional family situation. It could be a helpful resource for a child in this situation, and certainly a subject of discussion in P.S.H.E.. What is odd – and certainly not helpful – is the absence of any supernatural input about death and resurrection … without which any discussion of death cannot really answer questions!

Monday 6th April 2015