How 'A Monster Calls' Stacks Up To The Book

by Kayleigh Hughes
Focus Features

These days, it's common for children's and YA coming-of-age books to get a blockbuster film treatment and become huge, multi-film franchises. It's especially likely when the stories contain fantastical, magical, or science fiction elements. So it's no big surprise that the 2011 children's dark fantasy book A Monster Calls has been made into a feature film of the same name. But while many other books-turned-movies in the genre face the issue of the original stories being altered significantly from their book forms to fit into the very different medium of film, A Monster Calls avoided that fate. There are hardly any differences between the book A Monster Calls and the movie.

The book, about a young boy who befriends a large monster while his mother undergoes treatment for a terminal bout of cancer, was officially written by author Patrick Ness, but its creation has a more complex story than that. The idea was first developed by writer Siobhan Dowd while she, herself, was suffering from terminal breast cancer. In a feature for The Guardian, it's reported that she worked on the idea with editor Denise Johnstone-Burt at Walker Books and was contracted write the book. After her death, Ness, who also worked with Johnstone-Burt, took over and wrote the book based off of Dowd's original idea. Illustrator Jim Kay then became involved to bring the vivid story to visual life. Talking with The Guardian about the making of the book, Ness described how Dowd's presence impacted his writing of the book: "I always say it felt like a really private conversation between me and her."

It's a very personal and emotional backstory to an equally personal and emotional movie, and readers might wonder how Ness was able to let that private conversation go and become a big project with hundreds of different voices involved. The answer is that he, himself, took responsibility for writing the script, making sure that it stayed absolutely true to the book. In an interview with HeyUGuys.com, Ness said that after finding out that those in the film industry were interested in turning A Monster Calls into a movie, he pretty much immediately wrote the script on spec to ensure it was done right.

And by and large, the script is very similar to the book, with most of the characters firmly in place — main character Conor, his mother Lizzie, his grandmother, his father, the Monster, and some of his schoolmates — and the plot points and deft transitions between fantasy, reality, and fable all securely incorporated just as they were in the book (the ending is changed, but no spoilers here!). Ness told HeyUGuys that the director of the film, J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) even stayed loyal to less concrete, more conceptual elements of the story, such as the respect for a child's point of view and the melding of genres.

So if you loved the Carnegie Medal-winning A Monster Calls book, you can rest assured that the film does it justice. If you go to see the film and you've never read the book, just trust me: bring tissues.