Hot Key Carnegie Challenge – Book 1: A Monster Calls

Last week we made a pact that we would read and discuss the Carnegie Shortlist here at Hot Key and today is the start of our first discussion. We’d love you to join in too!

We decided to start with Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls – mainly as it had been at the top of many of Team Hot Key’s TBR pile for a while.

For those of you who haven’t read it yet, or don’t know what it’s about – here is the publisher’s (Walker) blurb:

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself.

Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

This is the place where we’ll discuss what we thought of it, and please do the same! When we get through the whole list, we’ll run a poll on which one we all think will win.

SO, what did you think? Let us know in the comments below:


14 responses to “Hot Key Carnegie Challenge – Book 1: A Monster Calls

  1. Beautifully written and, quite simply, haunting… loved how the illustrations enhanced the story rather than distracted from it. I’m buying a copy!

  2. Though it did sort of break my heart. Not one to read on public transport.

  3. I read this book a little while back, and to say it has stayed with me is an understatement. I found the whole thing a beautiful experience – the text, the story, the emotion, the illustrations and the fantastically designed and produced book from Walker – when we talk about beautiful books to cherish, this is one of them.

    The story is, well, we all know, SAD. And it definitely left me feeling very sad, for a very long time. I heard Patrick and illustrator Jim Kay talk about the book at a recent Foyles event and Patrick mentioned one line, right at the end, that Conor says to the Monster, which brings tears to his eyes every time he thinks of it – and it does the same for me. I think the end of this book is so wonderful and just right.

    Jim Kay’s illustrations are stunning and really add to the story for me – some of them horribly cold and bleak – but they help build the atmosphere so well, and it’s great to see a highly illustrated book for teens in the spotlight for a change.

    This is a special book that deserves all the praise that’s been thrown at it in my opinion!

  4. I’m not sure I can put it any better than Sarah B just has!

    I finished this last night and was in a semi-hysterical state by the time my boyfriend came home – but I think A MONSTER CALLS is ultimately much more than just a sad book about cancer… I think it focuses more on family ties, love, and the crappy reality of school, but of course these elements are a large part of why the sad bits are so terribly sad!

    It’s a fantastic book, and a real classic that will stay with me for a very long time.

    PS – only slight niggle – I dont remember it being ‘painfully funny’ – no laughter in between the sobs for me!

  5. PPS – I forgot to mention that I think having a semi-illustrated book is a brilliant idea and something which I wish publishers would do more!

  6. I loved it and, as I’ve said before, got some grit in my eye at the end. I thought the relationship between the boy (forgotten his name) and the bully were really good, the bully is the one person who isn’t making allowances for his situation and the boy seems somewhat grateful for that.

    (I read it a while back so some of the above recollection may have been altered by my mind!)

  7. It was so enthralling, the images didn’t detract at all, just nudged the imagination along. It was a lot darker than I expected it to be, but I loved it all the more for it.
    hotkeycait: I finished it on public transport. I blubbed a little. No one noticed (or they chose not to).

  8. Well, interestingly, I read this as an ebook library borrow and the illustrations are not included. I wonder why that is?

    I suppose I don’t know what I’ve missed, but with all the raving going on about the illustrations, I’m going to have to look through a real book.

    The story was amazing. So beautifully crafted. So understated. Patrick Ness is very skilled at giving you just enough – it’s never overwritten. A real challenge for the other books on the list!

    (I’m writing this in the sunshine, listening to three little ones giggle on a big trampoline. Happy Easter hols!)

  9. The novel is amazing, and even moreso I think when considered alongside his previous work – the Chaos Walking Trilogy. Some writers can write small, delicate, perfectly-formed. Others can write large, complex; the canvas huge and yet intricate. Patrick Ness has proved he can do both, because no matter what’s raging all around, he always places character and story at the heart of things. Loved the book!

  10. I picked this book up because of the connection with another fave author–Siobhan Dowd (adore her BOG CHILD!) I am heartbroken at the loss of her and all the books she would’ve written, but am thrilled and proud for Patrick Ness; he took her story/ideas and,as he says in the book’s intro, he ran with them and made trouble! I will definitely read more of his work.

    Re; the actual book, I agree with much that’s been said already by others. The characters are well-developed, the story twists and turns, and the illustrations are brilliant, always pushing my imagination. I, too, wept at the end (even though I knew what was coming) and my 12 yr. old daughter wept at the end after she finished. The thing about my daughter, though, is that she needed to talk about the book when she was done, which is something that I hope parents/teachers will consider when/if they make this book available to a young/teen reader.

    • A great point, Mima. This is definitely a book to talk about with young readers. It’s so intense that there should be an opportunity to let out some of the emotional build up.

  11. NEXT BOOK UP: Trash by Andy Mulligan – I don’t think any of us have read it, so look forward to the discussion!

  12. Sorry to come so late to the discussion, after a frantic week – not least trying and failing to find our copy, which had disappeared somewhere in the house – so I’m also writing from memory. Having said that, ‘A Monster Calls’ is a book that’s haunted me since I read it last summer. I think it’s the kind of book you remember for ever, in fact, for all the reasons discussed already.

    A few things particularly struck me…I loved the way Ness/Dowd brought together the fabulous and the everyday, and I also thought the portrayal of the grandmother and her relationship with Conor was very interesting and convincing. It’s so much easier to get things wrong than right, even when you’re trying to do your best in awful situations.

    But I was left feeling a bit bewildered about the readership of this exceptionally beautiful book. My 12 year old boy started it, and stopped when he realised where it was heading. He just didn’t want to go there. I’d definitely want to read it aloud to a younger child (but have chosen not to, yet, as I don’t think I could bear it!) As a parent, I think you’d want to know you were going to be around when a child of any age got to the end of it. I really agree with Mima about needing to talk about it. You’d need to have or to be a very wise teacher indeed if you were reading it at school.

  13. Pingback: Hot Key Carnegie Challenge Book 2: Trash by Andy Mulligan |

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