Study Guide

A Monster Calls Death

By Patrick Ness

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Chapter 6

"She'll seem better tomorrow, his grandma said, her voice huskier, "but she won't be, Conor." (6.38)

How could she seem better but not be? Would she just be pretending?

His grandma was on the settee, holding on to his mum, rubbing her back as she threw up into a small bucket they kept nearby just in case. (6.54)

This is one of the only times we see Conor's grandma being truly nurturing, acting like a mother to her daughter the way Conor's mom acts like a mother to him. Maybe it's because she knows that this is all her daughter has left—more pain and suffering until she finally dies.

Chapter 7

It was three full days after the treatment, about the time she usually started feeling better, except she was still throwing up, still exhausted, for far longer than she should have been. (7.2)

This is the point when someone should have been straight with Conor, don't you think? The denial also went on far longer than it should have, if you ask Shmoop.

Chapter 11

He went over and sat next to her on the side facing the window. She ran her hand through his hair, lifting it out of his eyes, and he could see how skinny her arm was, almost like it was just bone and skin. (11.35)

What parallels does the description of Conor's mom's arm and skin have with the description of the formation of the monster's body the first time Conor sees it? And what might those parallels mean?

Conor O'Malley

"She's got medicine for her pain --" Conor started, but his grandmother clapped her hands together, just the once, but loud, loud enough to stop him. (11.8)

Grandma may not be able to say the words, "she's dying," and she may not feel it's her place, since Conor's parents seem to want to lie to him. But she has to get through to him somehow; to let him know he's refusing to live in reality.

Chapter 18

"It's no place for a kid right now. I'll drop you off at school and go to the hospital, but I'll pick you up right after and take you to her […] I'll pick you up sooner if…if I need to." (18.20)

Another word nobody can say in this book, besides "cancer"? Any variant of the word "death." This is a seriously euphemistic family. We're betting things are gonna get awkward when it comes time to chat about the birds and the bees (speaking of euphemisms).


"Your mum's taken a turn, Con," his father said. Conor looked up quickly. "Your grandma's gone to the hospital now to talk to the doctors." (18.18)

Notice that his dad doesn't even have to say "for the worse." Even as he continues to cling to the hope that his mother will get better, Conor knows she's getting worse. At this point, he doesn't need to hear the truth spoken. He's starting to admit it to himself.

Chapter 19

"A couple of different things they've tried haven't worked like they wanted them to. And they've not worked a lot sooner than they were hoping they wouldn't. If that makes any sense." (19.15)

Conor's mom is already on the last-ditch drug when she tells him this. Once we know the drug's made of yew trees and she's not improving, we pretty much know there's no hope (as if we hadn't suspected that from the beginning of the book).

Chapter 26

His mum swallowed. "Things have moved just too fast. It was a faint hope. And now there's this infection—" (26.30)

Sometimes the cancer itself isn't what makes people die of cancer. The secondary infections can be just as dangerous, as they are in Conor's mom's case.

Chapter 30
Conor O'Malley

"I've known forever she wasn't going to make it, almost from the beginning. She said she was getting better because that's what I wanted to hear. And I believed her. Except I didn't." (30.6)

It takes Conor so long to say this that we almost think he never will. When he finally does, we're cheering for him and crying for him at the same time—it's the same kind of duality of feelings the monster talks about in its stories.

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