A Monster Calls is a modern day tale about a young boy named Conor O’Malley. Conor’s mother is dying of cancer and Conor is in a state of denial that she is going to actually die, holding on to any and every hope that she will live. He is being bullied at school where he feels invisible. He feels that the only time he is noticed is when people, mainly the teachers are feeling sorry for him, which he cannot stand. He has been having a nightmare almost every night that is not explained until the end of the book. All we know about the nightmare is that there is a monster in it, but it is not the same monster that visits Conor in real life.
A yew tree in Conor’s yard grows into a huge monster one night and comes to speak with Conor. He tells Conor that he will visit Conor repeatedly and tell him three stories of other times when he had come walking. When he has finished the third story, Conor must figure out why the monster has come walking now, and tell the monster a story. This story will be Conor’s truth. Conor’s grandmother, whom he does not care for, comes to help care for his mother. She tells Conor that he may need to come and live with her, which hints to Conor that his mother may die. The monster comes to him again one night and tells a tale of a Prince who ran away with a farmer’s daughter. The monster is able to make Conor’s surroundings look like he is witnessing the story in real time. The prince claims that the queen, who has always been suspicious of murdering the king for the throne, killed his love out of revenge for not marrying her instead, which the people believe. Conor sees his grandmother as being like the evil queen, and was enjoying the tale when the monster said he came to life that day to help stop the injustice. However, the monster did not come to help the prince, but instead saved the queen, much to Conor and the reader’s confusion. The monster explaines that while the queen was a witch and was not entirely good, she did not murder the farmer’s daughter. The prince killed her, then convinced the people and even himself that the queen was responsible. The monster had saved someone who was not really a good person because they were still innocent.
In the next few days Conor’s mother’s health grows worse. She is emitted to the hospital for some last ditch efforts to save her life, and meanwhile Conor is forced to move in with his grandmother because his father has no room for Conor in his house in America. When the monster returns to tell the second story, it is much like the first. Conor could see the events play out before him as with the last story. This tale was about an apothecary who wanted to cut down the yew tree, aka the monster, to make medicine from it’s bark. However, the owner of the property the tree was on would not allow it. He believed the apothecary’s methods were outdated. However he changed his mind when his daughters grew ill and no modern doctor could save them. The man begged the apothecary for help, but was denied. His daughters died that night. That night the yew tree came to life, but not for the apothecary, but instead he tore down the other man’s house. Why? He says because he believed the man should have allowed the apothecary to cut him down in the first place. The apothecary was not a kind man, much like the queen, but also like the queen, he was innocent. Conor watched as the monster wrecked the man’s house, and the monster invited Conor to join him in the destruction. Conor, being filled with frustration at his mother’s condition, his situation at school, and his hatred for his grandmother and father, agreed to get out some aggression within him. However, when the fantasy ended, and the scene of the story faded away, he saw that the monster had actually tricked him into destroying his grandmother’s sitting room.
Conor’s grandmother rarely spoke to him after that indecent. He is frustrated that he is not going to be punished. At school, Conor’s bully realizes that Conor seems to enjoy the bullying. He figures out that this is because for some reason Conor felt guilty for something, and wants to be punished. So as a new form of bullying, he decides to ignore Conor all together, telling him that he no longer sees him. Suddenly, the monster appears. No other student can see him. He tells Conor that his third tale is about an invisible man. He explains that he was not really invisible, but only felt that way. He is referring to Conor. While the monster is telling the story, Conor is yelling at his bully to acknowledge his existence, but he pretends he does not see or hear Conor. Conor asks the monster what he did to help the invisible man. The monster replies, ” I made them see.” (A Monster calls- The Third Tale) Conor, who can feel the strength of the yew tree within him, then lunges at his bully, and they begin to fight. Conor causes the most damage, and believes his will be punished, but much to his frustration, the teachers decide to cut him some slack sense they know he was being bullied and are aware of his mother’s condition. To add to his situation, the other kids definitely see him now, but they avoided him all the more. Later however he does find some comfort when his friend Lily, who he was angry with for telling everyone about his mother’s cancer, which caused them to treat him so differently, passes him a note apologizing for telling everyone and stating that she sees him.
Later on the time comes for Conor to tell his truth. He has believed up to this point that the monster has come walking to save his mother. He was sure of this when his mother told him that as a last effort to heal her, they were going to try a medicine made from, you guessed it, yew trees. However the treatment failed and she was for sure going to die. Conor is distraught and angry at the yew tree for not saving her. The monster explains that he had not come walking to heal Conor’s mother, but to heal Conor. He then takes Conor into his nightmare, the one with the monster he originally expected. Conor’s mother is about to be dragged away by a monster other than the yew tree and Conor is holding her hand, trying to save her. However, he lets go and she is gone. The yew tree tries to get Conor to admit that he let go on purpose, but Conor cannot stand the thought. Eventually though, Conor admits it and the nightmare ends. He explains to the yew tree that this nightmare represents his longing for his pain to end. He does not want his mother to die, however deep down he always knew she was going to. He just wanted it to be over with. This is why Conor wishes to be punished. He believes that his mother’s condition is his fault. The monster explains that it is not Conor’s fault and later on even appears in the hospital with Conor to help comfort him as his mother passes, saying, “If you speak the truth you will be able to face whatever comes.” (A Monster Calls- The Truth) Conor’s mother dies, and Conor is left with the strength to cope with her passing. For another take on the plot, you can find another summary here. Or here. Or watch this book trailer here.