*sigh* The hype machine strikes again. I don't know what it was this time, but... nope. Judging by all the four and five star ratings from my friends on Goodreads, I was kind of expecting my mind to be blown. I was told I would need tissues. Instead, I reached the last page and just had a blank stare, questioning, "Was that it? Really?"
To be fair, I'll never regret having purchased this book in hardcover because damn if the book itself isn't a work of art. The illustrations, done by Jim Kay, are absolutely amazing. So if you were thinking of buying this on an e-reader or Kindle, put that thought out of your head, and just pay the extra couple of dollars, because whoa. The haunting brushwork in the full page illustrations and the detail work on the sides of pages were just absolutely stunning and definitely my favorite part of the book.
The story, on the other hand, left more to be desired. In all honesty, when I finished, I questioned whether I was just too stupid for this book, because I think I must have missed something if that accounted for all those raving reviews. If I didn't miss something, then clearly I must be an insensitive bitch, because... it didn't really do much for me.
So Conor's mother has cancer, and Conor is coping with that in his own way. He has a persistent nightmare that haunts him almost every night. And then this monster suddenly comes to visit him and wants to tell him three stories, with the bargain that afterwards, Conor tells him his story. Conor is in denial about the fact that he even has a story to tell, but okay. Meanwhile, Conor goes to school, where he is pitied, ignored, and excluded by many because of his mother's condition. He even draws the attention of a bully. And to top it all off, his father remarried and is busy with his new family across the ocean.
Basically, A Monster Calls is a story about Conor's grief, coming to terms with death, and facing his fears. And while I know that that's a meaningful and deep story, it just didn't really touch me the way it did others. I don't get along well with books centered on death. Thinking back on If I Stay/Where She Went and The Lovely Bones, and now this? It's a definite thing. I know that they should make me feel something, but I just don't. I'm just reading with a blank expression and then I reach the end and am like, "Okay. So that's it." That's not to say that it's a bad book - it's not bad at all. The writing is definitely imaginative and good, the illustrations definitely immersed me in the story, but... I'm still lacking that feeling. And I wonder why? I mean, I have lost people close to me, but not at all recently, and it was while I was quite young. So I guess maybe that's it - it's just not personally relevant enough, and I didn't get so close to Conor to really feel what he felt.
This book has left me feeling conflicted. I'm really disappointed that it didn't have the profound emotional effect on me that it has had on others, and it also kind of makes me feel a bit ashamed. But it is what it is. I think in a few years time, if I reread this, there is a high chance that I will feel differently about it. I think whether you really connect with this book is reliant on your own experiences. So it didn't resonate with me now, but it might well do that later.
Others I think will have better luck with this book than I did. And certainly, it is a work of art in itself, and I will go back to look at those beautiful illustrations more often. My final thought is that this book really should be read in one sitting (which isn't too hard, considering its length). I think that way you are really the most immersed in the story and the ending will have the best effect.
Note to self: At least check the synopsis once before you think that all four/five star ratings from friends means that you will automatically love it too. You know stories about grief don't work for you now. Just. Just. Okay.
For the artwork, everyone; for the story, people who relate to and are affected by stories of loss and grief.
Wendy at The Midnight Garden: 5 out of 5 stars