Thanks for joining us for the virtual book club on A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It’s easy to participate. Just read the book and then at your own convenience, add your thoughts to the comments section. You can respond to any of these discussion questions—or just say what you thought of the book.
And as a bonus, I’ll give away a free book to one lucky commenter!
This book was suggested to me by the same person who recommended A Man Called Ove. She has never steered me wrong when it comes to the literary decisions of life, so I tend to pull out a pen whenever she starts talking books. This book was out of my typical genre, but it didn’t disappoint. I’ve already recommended it to several people who are dealing with loss or grief at some level.
Discussion #1: The power of story
From the outset, this book is about grief and loss—the real monsters in the book. But it wasn’t a downer like I was expecting: it felt real and fresh and even witty at times, while not minimizing grief. One thing I really liked was how Conor dealt with his grief through stories:
Stories are important. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.
How have stories helped you deal with something difficult in your life? Are there certain kinds of stories that tend to bring healing for you?
Discussion #2: Dealing with grief
I appreciated that Conor’s grief wasn’t sugarcoated or glossed over. It seems like as adults we sometimes try to protect kids from pain, and while this comes from a good motivation, it means that they end up stuffing their grief instead of dealing with it. As scary as the monster seems at first, he is the one who ultimately helps Conor unleash the truth about his feelings.
There is power in speaking the truth. We must tell the truth in order to heal.
Are you someone who tends to deal with hard situations head on, or do you lean more toward denial or anger? What “monsters” have helped you face the truth about how you’re feeling?
Discussion #3: Knowing when to let go
One of the things that tortures Conor most about his mother’s death is that he feels guilty for letting her go—for simultaneously wishing she’d live and wanting to be free from the pain of living in the not-knowing.
I didn’t mean to let her go! And now it’s for real! Now she’s going to die and it’s my fault!
When have you had to let go of something or someone? What conflicting feelings did you have about that . . . not wanting to lose them but also wanting the suffering to be over?
Discussion #4: Writing someone else’s book
I found it fascinating that another author, Siobhan Dowd, came up with the idea for this book first and then Patrick Ness ended up writing it. Dowd came up with the concept for the novel during her own terminal illness but died before she could write it, and an editor who worked with both authors arranged for Ness to write the story. Patrick says he had a lot of freedom to make the book his own:
I always say it felt like a really private conversation between me and her, and that mostly it was me saying, “Just look what we’re getting away with.”
If you were writing a book and weren’t able to finish it, would you want someone else to complete the project for you?
I thought this book was a fascinating study on loss, and the characters all seemed real and live to me. I just discovered that there’s a movie out based on the book, and I’d be interested in seeing it. I’d give the book four stars.
How many stars would you give the book (out of five)?
Remember: I’ll give away a free book to one lucky commenter!
Kristen Joy Wilks says
I loved the emotion this book evoked. It felt like losing a loved one. It felt true. It felt real. Having lost a parent at about the same age as the protagonist (he was 13 in the story and I was 14) this book reminded me of the complexity and power of grief. My reaction to loss was pretty much the opposite of the protagonist’s. He tried desperately to get into trouble and I was incredibly careful not to. But somehow that sweeping, overwhelming, strength of death as it rushes through your life and takes the one you love. That felt the same. A powerful book, one I would definitely recommend.
I can’t imagine losing a parent so young. You have developed a beautiful ability to empathize with others’ pain…what a redemptive story God has written in your life.
Kristen Joy Wilks says
It’s interesting, as much as I would love to just magic my dad back and have him here meeting my sons and my husband…I don’t think Daryl and I would have married if I hadn’t lost dad. See, Daryl lost his mother when he was four and grew up in a very difficult home. If my life had not contained some very bleak moments by the time we met, I don’t know that we would have fallen in love. It is strange how life changes you and how God is there amidst it all, using what we give Him, bad and good, to further His kingdom. It sounds so pat, because the pain is so sweeping and strong, but God truly does walk beside you in it.
What an incredible reminder that God uses even the hardest things for good we can’t imagine at the time. Thanks for being a living testimony of this!
I was able to read the book in a short time as I was riding in the car for a weekend. It was a compelling read and was thought provoking. I think that often the hard times in our lives (the monsters) are the times when we learn the most about ourselves. It can also be a reflective time and helps us to make changes based on what we learn. I tend to be like Conor and blame myself for things that I don’t have control over. I have learned from many years of trying to ignore some situations that it is not helpful in the long run and now I try to tackle hard things head on. I agree with your evaluation and also and give it four stars.
I’m so glad you read it, Nancy! You are so right the monsters in our lives teach us the most about ourselves. So glad you joined us!
Maggie R says
I borrowed A Monster Calls from the library the other night thanks to your recommendation and was drawn into the story immediately. I found the way the author used the monster as a metaphor for grief and loss to be beautifully done, even though I wanted the story to end differently, just as I want happy endings for my friends who are dealing with terminal illness right now. In the light of eternity, they have the assurance that an eternity of joy awaits then, but the in-between time of waiting for healing on this side is absolutely brutal. Thanks for alerting me to this compelling read, Stephanie!
Thanks for weighing in, Maggie. I’m grateful we know that cancer doesn’t have to be the end of the story!