We’ve decided to post up a summary of our meeting on 13th March and our discussion of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls so that those of you who are interested can look back over it. People who couldn’t attend the meeting can also look it over and see what issues were raised. Do feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything out, and please add to the discussion if you noted anything else about the novel worth mentioning!- Tom
A MONSTER CALLS
Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls sparked some interesting discussion. First among the issues raised was the question of the novel’s intended audience. A Monster Calls won the Carnegie Medal for both its writing and illustration, an award reserved for children’s fiction; however, many readers claimed that they were able to appreciate the story on an emotional level which they claimed might only be accessible to older readers (such as the tragic circumstances of a mother having to leave behind her own son, instead of vice versa). It is note worthy that the illustrated edition has little indication on its its cover of even being a children’s book at all; the front cover simply claims that the book is “A novel by Patrick Ness based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd”- prior knowledge of the publisher (Walker Publishing) and the author(s) would arguably be necessary to determine the book’s target audience.
This question also led into a debate about whether the book was suited for younger children. On the one hand, the book can be seen as beneficial for younger readers- it assumes a certain level of reading maturity on behalf of the reader by not spelling out particular concepts such as what a character is feeling emotionally (Ness chooses to describe facial expressions and body languages as opposed to phrases such as “Grandma looked angry”), and avoiding the actual use of the terms “cancer” and “death” as much as possible, which are again only implied or hinted it without being mentioned by name (as far as I can recall). However, it was also argued that the depth of the emotion in the book and its full implications might not appeal to or be appreciated by younger readers, although the central issues of the book were generally agreed to be universally accessible.
The novel’s illustrations were also discussed- the scale of Jim Kay’s illustrations (which either depict huge objects, landscapes, or exaggerate things to great size to the extend that each double page illustration also extends to each page either side of it) was likened to the scale of emotion in the book, and the central character being confronted with a situation far beyond the scope of his initial understanding. The inclusion of illustrations at the side of some pages (in particular before and after a double-page illustration) might also be seen as a subtle driving force behind the narrative- encouraging the reader to turn the page is important in children’s literature for the development of reading stamina. This might also explain why the illustrations were chosen to be (sadly, in my opinion) omitted from the “adult” version of the text, as their purpose is diminished by assumption that adult readers do not require this encouragement. In my opinion, the illustrations have their own artistic merit beyond acting as a technical driving force behind the narrative: the drawing style is unique and complex, and suit the tone of the novel well. The fact that these illustrations were removed from the “adult” copy might also lead into further debate and thought, such as whether illustration traditionally being associated with children’s texts reduces their artistic credibility as a contribution to the narrative.
The scale of the illustrations in relation to the level of emotion that takes place within the book was also likened to the destruction which takes place in the novel. Despite the book’s assertion that there are no ultimately good or bad people, it also seems to carry the message that we should set our own limits when it comes to expressing our own emotions, especially if they are destructive. Conor is never punished for his acts as they are a result of his distress; but in spite of that he comes to understand that what he is doing is hurting those around him. The destruction of his grandmother’s living room comes as such a shock because we are led to believe that the monster had given Conor a safe place to vent his frustrations. Perhaps the message here is that the way that we express ourselves always has an impact on those closest to us- we need to find the right way to share what we are feeling with one another.
Would you share this novel with a child who is experiencing the same thing as Conor? What about the children surrounding this child? The group remained divided on these questions. It was argued that the book might teach a child to develop their own approach or solution to a problem, and by introducing the book’s own solution to a child, it could by interpreted as preaching that Conor’s way is the right or only way. On the other hand, the book approaches Conor’s situation with tact and realism, which suggests reduces the danger of a child reading the text as patronising towards their situation.