A Monster Calls

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
A Monster Calls Book Poster Image
Haunting tale of a boy coming to terms with mother's cancer.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 15 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

The monster's tales will help readers question the surface meaning of stories and look more deeply to the metaphor underneath.

Positive messages

Conor's journey to accept what's really happening with his mother isn't easy, but it's believable and cathartic, even with a monster at its center. Conor's experiences will give readers empathy for someone going through a difficult time, even when he is not behaving in a likable manner.

Positive role models & representations

Basically a good kid, Conor acts out due to his tough situation and gets into trouble that he normally wouldn't take part in. He is very loving and helpful to his mother ("I wish you didn't have to be quite so good," she says), and the pain of his struggle is palpable, making it clear why he acts the way he does. Conor's mother is loving and forgiving of her son's misbehavior, and his friend Lily is a staunch and loyal friend.

Violence

Three school bullies consistently pick on Conor, at various times tripping him and teasing him. Conor loses his temper and seriously hurts one of the boys. Conor also destroys his grandmother's treasured clock and her entire living room. A monster threatens to "eat him alive." There's a murder that's not described. There's bullying/fighting resulting in blood, injury.

Sex

Mention of having sex but with no detail. Reference to the "coupling."

Language

Two uses of "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Conor's father holds wine glass at a restaurant, but there's no actual drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the true monster in this book is not the giant yew tree that comes to life and haunts 13-year-old Conor but is instead the shadow of his mother's imminent death from cancer. Conor deals with his fear in destructive ways, such as challenging the school bully to hurt him and destroying his grandmother's property.

User Reviews

Educator and Parent Written bykg29 April 18, 2016

Touching

Very moving story of a young boys journey through his own emotions about his mother battling cancer.
Parent of a 4 year old Written byclovek July 30, 2016

Amazing!

Great book, my eleven year old adopted child, Clove, (she came yesterday and I have no clue how to add her to my account) read it as soon as she got to my house... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byrobratings8901 December 16, 2012

what commonsense media missed:

I like to post what content commonsense missed, and Here's what gives: Violence: a monster destroys a parsonage's home, A huge, much scarier monster d... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old July 17, 2012

This complex and compeling book is a new favorite of mine.

This is a really compelling and complex book. It is now in fact one of my favorite books. It really gives you a lot to think about, and the Monster's stori... Continue reading

What's the story?

Thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Conor's mother has been sick for the past year but she is getting treatments, and Conor won't let himself think that she might not get better. Until the night the monster comes. Although Conor feels a surprising lack of fear of the giant walking tree, the monster warns him that he will be afraid before the end, and this warning hangs over the book as readers get to know Conor. At school, Conor has been marked as "the kid whose mother is dying," and as such he feels invisible, except to the boys who bully him. At home, Conor does his best to appear strong and capable to his mother. His father lives in America with his new family, and Conor dreads the times when his strict grandmother comes to help his mother. The monster's visits give Conor the means to vent his anger and unhappiness over what's happening and to allow himself, finally, to become visible.

Is it any good?

Children will be swept up into this honest and compelling story of a boy dealing with his mother's imminent death. Adults might be interested to know that Ness, author of the award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, wrote this book based on an idea by writer and Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, who died of cancer at the age of 47. Supported by Jim Kay's dramatic pen-and-ink illustrations, the story is driven forward by the giant yew tree that comes to life with the express purpose of haunting Conor. One of the most interesting monsters in modern literature -- menacing but somehow protective, fierce and also funny -- he makes Conor's pain more bearable by giving the boy something tangible to fight against. Ness does an amazing job of transforming this difficult subject into a moving tribute to love and loss.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Conor isn't scared of the yew tree that comes to life. What is the real monster that Conor can't acknowledge?

  • Have you ever known anyone who had someone close die? How did you talk to that person about it?

  • Why do you think Conor feels invisible? What do you think he wishes people would see?

  • Do you agree with Conor's original opinion of the monster's stories? Do you think the tales are helpful to him?

  • The monster says, "Stories are the wildest things of all." What do you think he means by that?

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