The Burden of Affliction: A Review of ‘A Monster Calls’

“Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace.  The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.”-St. Rose of Lima

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Review and Thoughts

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a story about a young boy named Conor whose mother is dying of cancer.  Conor is visited by an ancient monster, a yew tree, who lives in a graveyard close to his house.  The monster tells him that he will tell Conor three stories and then Conor must tell him the fourth story, which is Conor’s truth, or he will be eaten.  Conor is surprisingly not scared of this monster because he has seen another monster in his dreams and it is much more terrifying.

The yew tree serves as an interesting character.  He is terrifying and also teaches Conor some valuable lessons.  He is a healing tree and he has come to heal Conor.  With each story he tells, Conor becomes angry at the lesson, but it teaches him more about dealing with the impending death of his mother.  The final truth that Conor must speak to the yew tree is the cleansing that he needs and the realization of what his life will become.  The yew heals him as it promised him it would.

This novel, which is inspired by Siobhan Dowd, who died from cancer in 2007, is incredibly sad.  Conor feels invisible because his mother is always sick and only feels more invisible by the end of the novel.  He suffers as any young child would while watching his beloved mother die a slow and painful death.  I will admit that I cried through the entire ending of the novel.  I looked at things from the perspective of a child losing his mother, but even more so as a mother who was leaving her child much too early and was sad that she had let him down.

While I think this book is so well-written and has some great literary value, I feel it might be too much for younger readers.  I would recommend it for mature middle-schoolers only.  It teaches a great lesson in empathy to children and shows adults how children might be feeling when dealing with such difficult tragedy.

Of special note, the movie will be coming out in October (watch the trailer below).  

Possible Concerns

  • In the first tale the yew tree tells Conor, a prince and princess run away together and they have “sexual relations” while unmarried. There is also quite a bit of violence that follows this scene.
  • Conor’s dad has left the family and lives in America. He seems to pay more attention to his new family which leaves Conor angry and confused.
  • In the second tale the yew tree tells Conor, he teaches that “belief is half of healing.” He tells the story of a parson who backs down on all of his firm beliefs in order to save his daughters.

Further Discussion

  • Conor’s father has left the family and now lives in America with a new wife and child. How might Conor’s situation been different had his father been with him during the struggle in dealing with his mother’s cancer?
  • How could the adults have helped Conor better?
  • How could the other kids at school have helped Conor better? How could you help someone who is suffering?

Catholic Resources

“Prayer to Mother Mary for those Suffering with Cancer”

Let us beg our dear Mother’s intercession for all those who are suffering from Cancer specially little children and the aged who are afflicted by the pain of Cancer.

Mary, health of the sick, you brought forth into our world Jesus Christ, our Divine Healer.  In your caring goodness, intercede for (mention name), who is truly in need of miraculous assistance.

If it be God’s will, I ask this day that the gift of healing from all forms of cancer be granted to (name).  Comfort him/him during times of anguish, pain, confusion and despair.  Ask our gracious Savior to grant him/her physical health, inner peace and patience in suffering.

May God’s healing graces grant (name) a life of happiness, health and fulfillment here on earth, and one day the joy of eternal glory in His loving embrace.  Amen.

General Teaching Resources

  • Watch the trailer for the book.


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