The monster in Conor’s backyard is not the one he’s been expecting — the one from the nightmare he’s had every night since his mother started her treatments. This monster is ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd — whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself — Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.
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About the Author
Siobhan Dowd spent twenty years as a human rights campaigner for PEN and Amnesty International before her first novel, A SWIFT PURE CRY, was published in 2006. She won the Carnegie Medal posthumously in 2009 after her death at the age of forty-seven.
Jim Kay studied illustration and worked in the archives of the Tate Gallery and the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, two experiences that heavily influence his work. His images for A MONSTER CALLS use everything from beetles to breadboards to create interesting marks and textures. Jim Kay lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Read an Excerpt
A Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness
Candlewick PressCopyright © 2011 Patrick Ness
All rights reserved.
A MONSTER CALLS
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do
Conor was awake when it came.
He'd had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare. The one he'd been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with –
"Go away," Conor whispered into the darkness of his bedroom, trying to push the nightmare back, not let it follow him into the world of waking. "Go away now."
He glanced over at the clock his mum had put on his bedside table. 12:07. Seven minutes past midnight. Which was late for a school night, late for a Sunday, certainly.
He'd told no one about the nightmare. Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fortnightly (or so) phone call, definitely not his grandma, and no one at school. Absolutely not.
What happened in the nightmare was something no one else ever needed to know.
Conor blinked groggily at his room, then he frowned. There was something he was missing. He sat up in his bed, waking a bit more. The nightmare was slipping from him, but there was something he couldn't put his finger on, something different, something –
He listened, straining against the silence, but all he could hear was the quiet house around him, the occasional tick from the empty downstairs or a rustle of bedding from his mum's room next door.
And then something. Something he realized was the thing that had woken him.
Someone was calling his name.
He felt a rush of panic, his guts twisting. Had it followed him?
Had it somehow stepped out of the nightmare and –?
"Don't be stupid," he told himself. "You're too old for monsters."
And he was. He'd turned thirteen just last month. Monsters were for babies. Monsters were for bedwetters. Monsters were for –
There it was again. Conor swallowed. It had been an unusually warm October, and his window was still open. Maybe the curtains shushing each other in the small breeze could have sounded like –
All right, it wasn't the wind. It was definitely a voice, but not one he recognized. It wasn't his mother's, that was for sure. It wasn't a woman's voice at all, and he wondered for a crazy moment if his dad had somehow made a surprise trip from America and arrived too late to phone and Conor.
No. Not his dad. This voice had a quality to it, a monstrous quality, wild and untamed.
Then he heard a heavy creak of wood outside, as if something gigantic was stepping across a timber floor.
He didn't want to go and look. But at the same time, a part of him wanted to look more than anything.
Wide awake now, he pushed back the covers, got out of bed, and went over to the window. In the pale half-light of the moon, he could clearly see the church tower up on the small hill behind his house, the one with the train tracks curving beside it, two hard steel lines glowing dully in the night. The moon shone, too, on the graveyard attached to the church, filled with tombstones you could hardly read anymore.
Conor could also see the great yew tree that rose from the center of the graveyard, a tree so ancient it almost seemed to be made of the same stone as the church. He only knew it was a yew because his mother had told him, first when he was little to make sure he didn't eat the berries, which were poisonous, and again this past year, when she'd started staring out of their kitchen window with a funny look on her face and saying, "That's a yew tree, you know."
And then he heard his name again.
Like it was being whispered in both his ears.
"What?" Conor said, his heart thumping, suddenly impatient for whatever was going to happen.
A cloud moved in front of the moon, covering the whole landscape in darkness, and a whoosh of wind rushed down the hill and into his room, billowing the curtains. He heard the creaking and cracking of wood again, groaning like a living thing, like the hungry stomach of the world growling for a meal.
Then the cloud passed, and the moon shone again.
On the yew tree.
Which now stood firmly in the middle of his backyard.
And here was the monster.
As Conor watched, the uppermost branches of the tree gathered themselves into a great and terrible face, shimmering into a mouth and nose and even eyes, peering back at him. Other branches twisted around one another, always creaking, always groaning, until they formed two long arms and a second leg to set down beside the main trunk. The rest of the tree gathered itself into a spine and then a torso, the thin, needle-like leaves weaving together to make a green, furry skin that moved and breathed as if there were muscles and lungs underneath.
Already taller than Conor's window, the monster grew wider as it brought itself together, filling out to a powerful shape, one that looked somehow strong, somehow mighty. It stared at Conor the whole time, and he could hear the loud, windy breathing from its mouth. It set its giant hands on either side of his window, lowering its head until its huge eyes filled the frame, holding Conor with its glare. Conor's house gave a little moan under its weight.
And then the monster spoke.
Conor O'Malley, it said, a huge gust of warm, compost-smelling breath rushing through Conor's window, blowing his hair back. Its voice rumbled low and loud, with a vibration so deep Conor could feel it in his chest.
I have come to get you, Conor O'Malley, the monster said, pushing against the house, shaking the pictures off Conor's wall, sending books and electronic gadgets and an old stuffed toy rhino tumbling to the floor.
A monster, Conor thought. A real, honestto-goodness monster. In real, waking life. Not in a dream, but here, at his window.
Come to get him.
But Conor didn't run.
In fact, he found he wasn't even frightened.
All he could feel, all he had felt since the monster revealed itself, was a growing disappointment.
Because this wasn't the monster he was expecting.
"So come and get me then," he said.
A strange quiet fell.
What did you say? the monster asked.
Conor crossed his arms. "I said, come and get me then."
The monster paused for a moment, and then with a roar it pounded two fists against the house. Conor's ceiling buckled under the blows, and huge cracks appeared in the walls. Wind filled the room, the air thundering with the monster's angry bellows.
"Shout all you want," Conor shrugged, barely raising his voice. 1 ve seen worse.
The monster roared even louder and smashed an arm through Conor's window, shattering glass and wood and brick. A huge, twisted, branch-wound hand grabbed Conor around the middle and lifted him off the floor. 1t swung him out of his room and into the night, high above his backyard, holding him up against the circle of the moon, its fingers clenching so hard against Conor's ribs he could barely breathe. Conor could see raggedy teeth made of hard, knotted wood in the monster's open mouth, and he felt warm breath rushing up toward him.
Then the monster paused again.
You really aren't afraid, are you?
"No," Conor said. "Not of you, anyway."
The monster narrowed its eyes.
You will be, it said. Before the end.
And the last thing Conor remembered was the monster's mouth roaring open to eat him alive.
Excerpted from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Copyright © 2011 Patrick Ness. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
There's no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it's also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place - an imperfect one, of course - where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous storyteller and a potent piece of art.
—The New York Times
A nuanced tale that draws on elements of classic horror stories to delve into the terrifying terrain of loss. . . . 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.
Profoundly moving, expertly crafted tale... a singular masterpiece, exceptionally well-served by Kay's atmospheric and ominous illustrations... tackles the toughest of subjects by refusing to flinch, meeting the ugly truth about life head-on with compassion, bravery, and insight.
A brilliantly executed, powerful tale.
—School Library Journal
Ness twists out a resolution that is revelatory in its obviousness, beautiful in its execution, and fearless in its honesty. Kays artwork keeps the pace, gnawing at the edges of the pages with thundercloud shadows and keeping the monster just barely, terribly seeable.
A masterpiece about life and loss that will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned.
—Library Media Connection