A Monster Calls
Goodreads ratings
4.35 / 5

"A Monster Calls" Summary

By Patrick Ness

fantasy | 237 pages | Published in 2011

The bestselling novel about love, loss and hope from the twice Carnegie Medal-winning Patrick Ness. Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don't quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there's a visitor at his window. It's ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking tale of mischief, healing and above all, the courage it takes to survive.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A boy copes with his mother's illness and the monstrous truth through the help of a storytelling monster.


"A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness is a poignant and emotionally charged novel that delves into the themes of loss, grief, and the complexities of human emotions. The story follows a young boy named Conor O'Malley as he struggles to cope with his mother's terminal illness and the overwhelming emotions that come with it. With a captivating blend of fantasy and raw human experience, the novel takes readers on a powerful journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story is set in present-day England, where Conor O'Malley, a 13-year-old boy, is dealing with the impending loss of his mother to cancer. Conor's life is filled with turmoil as he navigates the challenges of school, strained relationships with family members, and the emotional burden of watching his mother's health deteriorate. Amidst this turmoil, Conor encounters a monstrous yew tree that comes to life and visits him at night, promising to tell him three stories in exchange for the truth that Conor is hiding deep within himself.


The novel is predominantly set in Conor's hometown, where the ordinary aspects of daily life intertwine with the extraordinary presence of the monster and the emotional turmoil that Conor experiences. The setting captures the essence of a small, close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else's business, adding an additional layer of complexity to Conor's struggle with his personal life.

Main Characters

The novel features several key characters who play significant roles in Conor's journey:

Conor O'MalleyThe protagonist, a 13-year-old boy struggling to cope with his mother's illness.
Conor's MotherSuffering from terminal cancer, she is a source of love and comfort for Conor.
The MonsterA yew tree that transforms into a monstrous figure and visits Conor to tell him stories.
Conor's GrandmotherAttempts to provide support for Conor, but their relationship is strained.
Conor's FatherLives in America with his new family and struggles to connect with Conor.

Chapter Summary

Chapter 1-3: Conor's Struggle

Conor's life is filled with the challenges of caring for his mother, coping with school, and dealing with the emotional strain of his situation. The monster's first visit introduces the idea of storytelling and the exchange of truth.

Chapters 4-6: The First Story

The monster tells Conor the first story, which challenges Conor's perceptions of good and evil. Conor grapples with the complexity of human nature and the blurred lines between right and wrong.

Chapters 7-9: The Second Story

The monster shares the second story, which pushes Conor to confront his own emotions and the truth that he has been repressing. Conor's struggle becomes more intense as he navigates the conflicting emotions within himself.

Chapters 10-12: The Third Story

In the final story, the monster reveals a tale that challenges Conor's perceptions of life and death, prompting him to confront the reality of his mother's impending passing. Conor's emotions reach a breaking point as he faces the truth he has been avoiding.

Chapters 13-15: Acceptance and Closure

Conor finds solace in accepting his emotions and the truth he has been hiding. His journey towards acceptance and closure is marked by a poignant realization that allows him to confront the impending loss of his mother.

Main Events

  • The monster's visits to Conor, promising to tell him three stories in exchange for the truth.
  • Conor's struggles at home, school, and within himself as he copes with his mother's illness.
  • The storytelling sessions with the monster, each revealing deeper emotional and psychological truths for Conor.
  • Conor's interactions with his family members, particularly his strained relationship with his grandmother and distant connection with his father.
  • The emotional climax where Conor faces the truth and finds acceptance amidst his mother's declining health.

Themes and Insights


Grief and LossThe novel delves into the profound impact of grief and the complexities of dealing with loss, especially in the context of a terminal illness.
Truth and AcceptanceConor's journey towards accepting the truth about his emotions and his mother's condition is a central theme that resonates throughout the narrative.
Emotions and CopingThe novel explores the intricacies of human emotions and the various ways individuals cope with overwhelming circumstances.


  • The novel offers insights into the multifaceted nature of grief and the emotional rollercoaster that comes with it.
  • Conor's journey highlights the importance of confronting difficult truths and finding acceptance as a means of emotional healing.
  • The storytelling aspect of the novel provides a unique perspective on the power of narratives and the ways in which stories can shape our understanding of the world.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Monster Calls" is a deeply moving and thought-provoking novel that offers a raw and honest portrayal of grief, loss, and the complexities of human emotions. Readers will find themselves immersed in Conor's emotional journey, gaining valuable insights into the power of storytelling, the significance of truth, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.


With its powerful narrative and emotionally charged storytelling, "A Monster Calls" leaves a lasting impact on readers, prompting reflection on the profound themes of grief, truth, and acceptance. Patrick Ness's masterful blend of fantasy and human emotion creates a compelling and unforgettable reading experience that resonates long after the final page is turned.

A Monster Calls FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Monster Calls'?

    A Monster Calls is a young adult fantasy novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Monster Calls'?

    The author of 'A Monster Calls' is Patrick Ness.

  3. What is the main theme of 'A Monster Calls'?

    The main themes of 'A Monster Calls' include loss, grief, and coming of age.

  4. Is 'A Monster Calls' suitable for young readers?

    While 'A Monster Calls' is a young adult novel, it deals with mature themes such as loss and grief, so it may not be suitable for very young readers.

  5. What is the storyline of 'A Monster Calls'?

    The story follows a young boy named Conor who is visited by a monster that helps him cope with his mother's illness.

  6. Is 'A Monster Calls' based on a true story?

    No, 'A Monster Calls' is a work of fiction and not based on a true story.

  7. Is 'A Monster Calls' part of a series?

    'A Monster Calls' is a standalone novel and not part of a series.

  8. What age group is 'A Monster Calls' suitable for?

    'A Monster Calls' is suitable for young adult readers and older, as it deals with complex emotional themes.