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Book Review

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Just after midnight, the yew tree in Conor’s yard in England becomes a monster. The monster begins to appear frequently to 13-year-old Conor, who is, surprisingly, not afraid of it. The monster says it will tell Conor three stories, and then Conor must tell it the truth. Conor is confused by its appearance and cryptic message, but he has other things to worry about.

Conor’s mom is undergoing cancer treatments. His father, now nearly a stranger to him, lives in America with his new family. Grandmother, who is still a professional woman and not like any grandmother he knows, is coming to stay with the family and care for Mom. Meanwhile at school, a boy named Harry and his goons beat and bully Conor. Conor’s old friend Lily tries to step in and help, but he pushes her away.

As Conor tries to hold on to the hope of his mother’s recovery, the monster tells him the first story. It is about a prince who overthrows his evil stepmother’s reign. The second story involves an apothecary and the parson who destroys the apothecary’s business. In the third tale, Conor is the invisible man who grows tired of not being seen, but who ends up regretting his efforts to be noticed. The stories still make little sense to Conor, and the winners in the stories are not the characters he thinks they should be.

Conor’s mom tries several new therapies without success. His father makes a brief appearance, in which he makes it clear that Conor is not invited to come back to America with him if something should happen to Mom. Grandma and Conor each suffer individually as they watch Mom getting worse. Grandma tries to be a realist, but Conor refuses to believe that his mother won’t pull through.

In several emotional outbursts, he destroys a room in Grandmother’s house and beats up the school bully, putting the boy in the hospital. Adding to his feeling of being invisible, no one will punish him for his misdeeds. They say he’s going through enough already. Most people, not knowing how to respond to him in his grief, simply look away.

When he learns that the final treatment attempt includes medicine made from yew trees, Conor is excited. He’s sure that the monster is going to save his mother’s life. He’s devastated, however, when the monster admits it didn’t come to save Conor’s mother. It came to save Conor. Readers then see Conor having one of his frequent nightmares, the one where his mother is falling off a cliff. He is holding on to her, but he lets go, and she falls into the grasp of a truly frightening monster. He finally admits to the yew monster that he feels guilty for wanting her to go, for wanting her and himself to be free of the ongoing agony of disease.

Conor is finally able to say goodbye to his mother as she lies dying. He can at last admit she is leaving him. The monster assures Conor that he will able to be handle the pain, however horrible, if he can tell himself the truth.

Christian Beliefs

A pious parson in the monster’s story agrees to give up everything he believes in if the apothecary will save his daughters’ lives. The monster ridicules the man for being someone who supposedly lived on belief but was so fearful that he sacrificed his beliefs at the first challenge he faced.

Other Belief Systems

One story the monster tells the boy involves a witch with magical powers. Conor’s stepmother owns a shop that sells herbs and crystals for healing purposes.

Authority Roles

Grandma still has a job and a housekeeper and likes things to remain orderly. Conor feels these things make her different from other people’s grandmothers. She is lenient toward him despite the way he destroys her home, knowing he and she are both grieving. Conor’s father is torn between his new family in America and looking out for his son whose mother is dying. When his wife calls and tells him to come home because the baby is sick, Dad’s quick departure lets Conor know whom Dad values most. Conor’s mom tries to be upbeat and hopeful for her son’s sake, even though she knows she is dying.


The words h---, crap, d---it and arse (for a--in this British story) are used a time or two each, and the Lord's name is taken in vain a few times.


A prince and a farmer’s daughter in the monster’s story vowed to be chaste. Their passions got the best of them, and the monster says they ultimately fell asleep, naked, in each other’s arms.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for A Monster Calls.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

12 and up


Patrick Ness






Record Label



Candlewick Press


On Video

Year Published



UK National Book Award Children’s Book of the Year, 2011; Carnegie and Greenaway Children’s Book Award, 2012, Red House Children’s Book Award, 2012, and others


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