A Monster Calls Summary
13-year-old Conor O'Malley's mom (or "mum," as the Brits say), is dying of cancer, and Conor's having nightmares. In his recurring dream—SPOILER ALERT!—a terrifying monster tries to pull his mother down into a pit, and Conor's at the edge trying to hang onto her hands. Not that we know this at the beginning. This dream is, in fact, the thing we wait the whole book to find out.
Every time Conor has the dream, he wakes up at exactly seven minutes past midnight. So when he wakes up one night and there's an actual monster outside his bedroom window, you'd think he'd be terrified. However, it's not the monster Conor's been expecting, so he's kind of unimpressed.
This monster spends its days as a yew tree in the cemetery behind his house, but at night it turns into a terrifying tree-creature with skin made of leaves and slices of bark for teeth. But Conor's not scared, because the monster in his dreams is way scarier—at least until the yew tree monster demands the scariest thing of all: the truth about Conor's nightmare.
First, though, the monster tells Conor three stories on three separate nights. Though they seem a bit like fairy tales, the good guys turn out to be the bad guys, and vice versa. And there's a sinister twist: when the monster tells the stories, Conor acts them out in his own life, then realizes what he's done only after the monster disappears. One leads him to wreck his grandma's living room, and one causes him to beat a schoolmate so badly the kid goes to the hospital with broken bones and teeth. However, when Conor does something awful, nobody punishes him, because they're all walking on eggshells around the kid whose mom has cancer. It's easier just to pretend he doesn't exist.
Speaking of the cancer, the last-ditch chemo the doctors tried on Conor's mother is failing. It's a drug called Taxol (even though nobody ever names it), and it's made from yew trees. Conor thinks this must mean the monster has come to heal his mother—but of course, that's not the case at all. When it comes to Conor's mom, there's simply no hope.
Unfortunately, Conor's been in major denial about the fact that his mom is dying, and his parents encourage that denial by pretending everything's fine. They all keep pretending right up to the moment it becomes clear she only has a few hours left. That night, the monster steps in, because somebody's got to help this kid see the light.
Our favorite anthropomorphic yew tree changes the family's backyard into the world of Conor's nightmare. Just like in the dream, Conor sees his mom standing beside the cliff, and he sees the nightmare monster grab her by the feet and try to pull her down into the pit. Conor runs and grabs her hands, but the pit monster's too strong for him, and Conor lets her fall. He tries his best to hang on, but in truth, he just wants it to be over. And now he knows he's an awful person who needs to be punished.
But the monster's all, hold up, it's not that simple. Humans are complex creatures, capable of being both good and bad at the same time, just like in the stories. Finally, there's a moral: sometimes when caring for someone for so long wipes you out, it's okay to let go. In fact, you have to.
Then, in one of the most sob-inducing scenes in any book ever, the monster makes its branches into a nest so Conor can crash there. He wakes up just in time to go to the hospital and hold his mother's hand while she dies—which, though the book ends just before she actually passes away, we know happens at 12:07.
Now excuse us while we go eat some much needed consolation ice cream.
A Monster Calls
- It's 12:07 a.m., and 13-year-old Conor O'Malley is awake again. He's just had his usual nightmare, "the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming."
- Nobody knows about the nightmare. Conor hasn't told his parents, his grandma, or any of the awful kids at school. He doesn't even tell us.
- But it's not the nightmare that woke him up tonight. It's the fact that there's someone outside his bedroom window calling his name.
- He tries to ignore it, telling himself it's just the wind, but it keeps calling, so he gets out of bed and goes to the window.
- He sees what he always sees: the church tower on the hill behind his house, the graveyard surrounding the church, and the giant yew tree that stands in the midst of the graves.
- He hears his name again and answers, saying, "What?"
- A cloud moves in front of the moon, darkening the landscape, and a giant gush of wind whooshes into his room. He hears a loud sound like wood cracking.
- When the cloud passes and the moonlight shines again, Conor sees that the yew tree is now standing in his yard.
- But it doesn't remain standing for long. It turns into a gigantic tree monster, with trunks for legs and branches for arms and needle-leaf skin.
- The monster grabs the roof of Conor's house, leans into his window, and tells Conor he's come to get him.
- But Conor's not scared (we are). Apparently, this monster's totally lame compared to the one in his nightmare. He tells the monster to shout all it wants; he's seen worse.
- The monster is shocked that Conor's not afraid, but tells him he will be before the end.
- Then it opens up its mouth to eat him.
- It's the next morning, and Conor hasn't been eaten. Phew.
- He goes downstairs for breakfast and calls for his mom, which he's been doing a lot lately. But she's not out of bed yet.
- Conor's not too bothered: after the night he's had, he's happy to make his own breakfast, and quickly whips up some cereal, toast, and juice.
- As he chows down, he looks out at the graveyard and sees that the yew tree is back where it belongs.
- He reflects on the events of the previous night. When he first woke up, he thought it was all a dream. Then he saw that his entire bedroom floor was covered in yew tree leaves, so maybe… not.
- He tells himself that the leaves, which he swept up and threw in the trash, must have blown in through his open window.
- Because he has some spare time before school starts, he decides not to leave the yew leaves in the kitchen trash. He takes them outside, along with the recycling.
- His mom comes downstairs to find that not only has Conor made himself breakfast, he's taken out the garbage and started a load of laundry to boot.
- She compliments him on being so good and apologizes for oversleeping. She tries to tell him the new round of chemo is making her tired, but he interrupts her before she can say "chemo." That word's a no-no in this house.
- Plus she's good to go for the day because his grandma's coming to visit to help take care of her. Conor's not thrilled, though. Grandma's also bringing his mom some wigs, which he really doesn't like.
- Conor's all about the denial.
- As he heads off for school, he hears his mom saying to herself, "There's that old yew tree."
- Conor's mouth is full of blood. His bully Harry has just tripped him on the way to school, and Harry's cronies Anton and Sully think it's hilarious.
- Shmoop begs to differ.
- Harry is, as Conor puts it, "the Blond Wonder Child." All the teachers love him.
- These two weren't enemies, though, until Conor started having the nightmare with the screaming. Not the one about the tree—the real nightmare, the one we don't have the scoop on yet. Somehow he became Harry's target around the same time. What's that about?
- On the first day of school that year, Harry had tripped him, and has been tripping and pushing him ever since.
- Harry, Anton, and Sully are laughing to beat the band, but Conor straight up ignores them. He just wants to make it to school.
- Then Lily, Conor's ex-best-friend, comes up and yells at them to leave him alone. And when Sully laughs that Conor will have to get "his baldy mother" to kiss his bleeding face, Lily shoves Sully into the bushes (we're starting to like this girl).
- But then things get dicey. Miss Kwan, their principal (or Head of Year, since we're in jolly old England) sees Lily push Sully, and she yells at Lily, who tries to fink on the boys.
- Miss Kwan asks if Sully's okay, and he says he might need to go home. She tells him not to milk it and tells Lily to go to the office.
- Lily tells Miss Kwan that the boys were making fun of Conor's mom, and Miss Kwan asks Conor if it's true.
- Conor says no, that they were just helping him up after he fell. So then Lily gets dragged to the office, and Conor and the bullies make their way to school—not speaking, of course.
- Well that went well.
- School's out, and Conor's racing home. But he's not happy.
- His English teacher, Mrs. Marl, has assigned them to write a story about their lives. Family vacations, happy memories, etc.
- Conor's got some memories, all right, but they're none of anybody else's business. Mainly because they're not exactly rainbows and unicorns: his dad left, his mom got sick, his cat wandered off and never came back.
- Needless to say, he's not down with writing about them.
- Lily comes running up to him and yells at him for not sticking up for her and telling Miss Kwan what really happened.
- Conor says he doesn't need her help and it's none of her business.
- Lily says she's got detention all week, which Conor says is not his problem.
- Lily begs to differ. It's totally his fault. Nuh-uh, says our hero. It's all Lily's fault.
- What's her fault, you ask? Well, Conor and Lily used to be best friends and share their deepest secrets, but then Lily told everyone his mom had cancer, and all bets were off. Conor was not pleased.
- And he'll never forgive her, natch. He ditches Lily on the street and heads home, thinking about his parents' divorce. (He's a cheery guy, our Conor.)
- When he sees the graveyard, he notices that the yew tree's there, just chillin' as usual.
- But then it grows a face and says his name.
- Conor steps back and falls against a parked car, but when he looks up, the tree is just a tree again.
- Dun dun dun.
- At home that night, Conor's mom makes lasagna, which tires her out so much she falls asleep in front of the TV. He covers her with a duvet and goes to bed himself.
- Right after he turns out the light, she comes in to kiss him goodnight.
- Shortly thereafter, he hears her in the bathroom throwing up.
- (Do you want to hug Conor's mom and make her a cup of tea? Because we totally do.)
- Conor can't sleep after that. So he lies awake watching his clock say 12:05, 12:06…
- At 12:07 he gets up and walks to the window, and there's the tree monster. It wants to come in and talk.
- Sure, says Conor, that's what monsters always want—to talk.
- The monster's totally cool with forcing his way into Conor's room, but Conor doesn't want his mom to wake up, so the monster says to come outside.
- Conor goes outside, all, hey monster, what exactly is it you want from me?
- The monster says it's not what he wants from Conor, it's what Conor wants from him.
- Conor, as is to be expected, tells the monster he's whack. Conor doesn't want anything from any stinkin' tree—talking or not.
- The monster says he doesn't yet, but he will.
- When Conor tells the monster he must be a dream, the monster asks how Conor knows that everything else isn't a dream?
- Fair question. But it never gets an answer because the monster's busy telling Conor that he'll be back. And the monster will tell him three stories, after which Conor will tell him the fourth—which is to say, the truth.
- And if Conor doesn't tell the truth? Well, then, the monster will eat him alive.
- Conor wakes up shouting. His floor is covered with poisonous yew berries, which have come in through his closed, locked window.
- Time for wacky Grandma! She's not your average wrinkly, nice, knitting geriatric. She dyes her hair and refuses to grow old gracefully.
- She's there to Take Care of Things, and almost as soon as she walks through the door, she's all about solutions. She starts talking about a school near her house that Conor can go to, when you-know-who finally you-know-whats of the big C-word.
- Conor and his mother say he's fine where he is. Denial: it's not a river in Egypt.
- Fleeing the conversation, Conor goes into the kitchen and starts furiously wiping down the counters. When he looks out the window, he sees the monster standing in the backyard watching him.
- Grandma wants to have a talk, but Conor's tired of having talks. He tells his grandma his mom will be fine tomorrow, at which point Grandma can hit the road.
- They hear Conor's mom calling from the living room, and Grandma runs in to help.
- Eavesdropping, Conor can hear his G-ma trying to comfort his mom. And then he hears her booting into a bucket.
The Wildness of Stories
- Conor goes to sleep on the living room settee that night and has the nightmare again.
- He wakes up at 12:07, of course. But there's no monster to be found.
- Then, when he goes and looks out the kitchen window, there it is, just chillin' and waiting for him. No creaking wood or calling out Conor's name tonight.
- Conor goes outside to have a visit. These two are getting quite friendly.
- It's time to tell the first story, says the monster.
- But Conor's not having it. He tells the monster it's not real and he doesn't have time to listen to any stupid stories.
- Oh really? The monster one-ups Conor's argument by asking the kiddo how the monster can leave very real berries on Conor's very real floor if he is, in fact, not real?
- Whatevs. Conor does not think berries are all that scary. But since the monster's here, Conor wishes he would help Conor get rid of his Grandma. You know, do a little slaying of the enemies, as monsters are wont to do?
- The monster says he'll tell a story about slaying some enemies.
The First Tale
- Here's the monster's first story in a nutshell:
- Back in the day, many years ago, there was a kingdom where Conor's house stands now. The houses were shaded by lots of trees, and there were giants, dragons, wizards, the whole nine yards.
- There was also a king, who did battle with all these creatures, during which he lost his four sons. But hey, at least he secured the kingdom.
- The king was left with only one heir, an infant grandson. Even with this sign of hope, though, the queen up and died, as did the baby's mother.
- So the king had to remarry, and he chose a princess, who was kind of snippy, but not the worst wife in the world.
- For a while at least. Things took a turn for the worse when, two years before the king's grandson was to turn 18 and ascend to the throne, the king got sick, and people began to whisper that the princess was poisoning him.
- See, the princess had magic powers. In fact, she was really an old hag, but she had made herself look young. It was all very suspect.
- And when the king finally died, she became queen. At first, she ruled just as the king had, and the populace actually kind of liked her.
- Meanwhile, the prince fell in love with a farm girl. The kingdom was cool with it; the queen was most decidedly not.
- Her answer? The prince should marry her instead. As in, the queen. Which Conor understandably thinks is pretty gross. Like marrying your step-grandmother. Awkward, much?
- So the prince and his girlfriend ran away on horseback, stopping only to sleep under—you guessed it—the yew tree.
- When it's time to wake up and go get married, the prince sees that his girlfriend is dead and there's a knife on the ground. Then he sees the blood on his hands.
- He decides that this was a setup: the queen had the girl murdered and framed him.
- He hears the villagers coming to get revenge, but he can't run, because his horse is gone.
- So the monster came to life in order to help him. He may be a monster, but he doesn't like injustice any more than the next guy.
- The prince goes running toward the villagers and tells them the queen is responsible. Because the villagers like the prince better than the queen anyway, they believe him.
- So they turn around and storm the castle. They grab the queen and drag her off to burn her alive.
- Conor's starting to like this story—things are getting exciting.
- He asks the monster if he can lend a hand with Conor's grandma, since he's kind of in a similar situation.
- Hold up, says the monster. I'm not done with the story yet.
The Rest of the First Tale
- Turns out that when the villagers lit the fire, the monster grabbed the queen and saved her. He took her away to a village by the sea to live in peace.
- Conor flips. How could the monster protect a murderer? To which the monster's all, um, I never said she was a murderer. The prince said she was a murderer.
- This prompts Conor to ask the obvious question: so who did it, then?
- Preferring to show rather than tell, the monster, with a sweep of its arms, conjures the scene in Conor's yard.
- After the princess falls asleep, the prince goes to his horse, unties it from the tree, and pulls a knife out of the saddlebag. Then he smacks the horse on the butt and sends it running.
- It turns out that the prince hated the queen, because she was indeed a witch. But he knew he couldn't overthrow her on his own; he needed the villagers' help.
- His solution? Kill the princess, tell the villagers it's the queen's fault, and get her burned at the stake. Then he can rule forever.
- Which, except for the monster-sweeping-the-queen-away part, is exactly what happens.
- Conor gets the lesson: the prince was a jerk, the queen wasn't a witch after all, and Conor should be nice to his grandma.
- The monster laughs. Like he would ever turn into a monster just to teach some kid a lesson in niceness. The queen was a witch, but she wasn't a murderer
- That's why he saved her.
- Conor's confused: who's the good guy, then?
- The monster says there's really no such thing as good guys. Most people are a mixture of good and bad—like the queen. And the prince, for that matter.
- Conor wants to know how this story is supposed to save him from his grandma, to which the monster replies it's not his grandma he needs saving from.
- Conor wakes up, and of course it's 12:07.
- And of course there's a yew sapling growing from a knot in his floorboard.
- He goes into the kitchen and gets a knife to saw it down.
- The next day at school, Lily tells Conor she forgives him.
- He's all, for what?
- For getting her in trouble, Lily says. Duh.
- You got yourself in trouble, says Conor.
- So Lily tells him she forgives him for lying, then asks if he's going to say he's sorry.
- The answer? A big fat nope. And while they're at it, he doesn't forgive her, thank you very much.
- Lily tells him her mom says she's supposed to be nice to him because of what he's going through, but obviously it's tough when he's being such a jerk.
- Ugh. Conor just wants to kill her. He imagines himself ripping her in two. Instead, he opts to tell her that her mom doesn't know anything. Then he walks away.
- Everyone's been giving him special treatment since his mom got sick and Lily spilled the beans. They're all afraid to talk to the kid with the cancer mom, including the teachers, so they treat him like he's invisible.
- Except for Harry, who inexplicably started bullying him.
- That day during break, Harry punches Conor in the stomach.
- Lily watches and does nothing, but Miss Kwan sees them. She doesn't see the punching, she just sees that they're out past the break.
- Harry tells her they were just talking about the life writing assignment.
- Miss Kwan sends the other boys back to class, but she wants to talk to Conor.
- She knows he's being bullied, she says. And she can't imagine what he must be going through, but he can talk to her anytime.
- He says he's not going through anything. What he doesn't say is that he doesn't want special treatment; he just wants everything to be normal again.
- Conor's day gets worse: that afternoon, Grandma wants to have a little talk.
- His mom's really sick, she's going into the hospital for a few days, and Conor's going to come stay with Grandma while she's there.
- She's got medicine for being sick, says Conor. But Grandma interrupts him and says the medicine's not working.
- Oh, and just to make things worse, his dad's on his way from America.
- But why, Conor wants to know? See, according to him, there's no need for his dad to make the trip (because—if you haven't noticed already—Conor's in serious denial about his mom's situation).
- Apparently, his dad hasn't been across the pond since two Christmases ago. He's got a new baby in America, and he's pretty much abandoned Conor altogether.
- His mom calls for him, but when Conor goes to her room, he finds that she's not there. Instead, she's in his room.
- She tells him that they'll make her better at the hospital and asks if he's excited about seeing his dad.
- Ah, but she can't fool Conor. He asks her if there's something else she wants to tell him.
- She tells him the treatment's not working, but that just means they have to try another treatment. She says she'll be back.
- He tells her she could tell him if that weren't true (progress?), but she doesn't.
- Instead, she looks out the window at the yew tree—which is just a tree for the time being—and tells him to keep an eye on it and make sure it's still there when she gets back.
- After five days at Grandma's, the monster still hasn't come to visit.
- As he looks out the window and thinks how Grandma doesn't even have a yard, Conor worries that maybe yew tree monsters aren't down with that.
- Grandma tells him to stop standing there and pick up his backpack. His dad's on the way and she doesn't want his him to think Conor's living in a pigsty.
- Which is ridiculous, since Grandma's house is cleaner than his mom's hospital room.
- When he picks up the backpack, Grandma takes off, and Conor's alone in the house waiting for his pops.
- He's also waiting for the monster, who continues to be a no-show.
- To kill some time, Conor goes into the living room to read a book. Still no monster. Conor looks into the floorboards to ask if it's there, but nada.
- The doorbell rings, and there's his old man.
- Surprisingly, Conor smiles his first real smile in a long time.
- Conor and his dad have just been to the hospital, where his mom isn't doing so hot. Now they're in a restaurant, shooting the breeze.
- Dad wants Conor to come stay with him for Christmas break, but Conor, still deliberately clueless, asks, "What about Mum?"
- Avoiding the question altogether, pops says Grandma thinks a trip to America would be good for Conor, too.
- Changing the subject, Conor tells his dad about the tree, and that it hasn't come to Grandma's house yet, even though he's been waiting for it.
- Dad, of course, thinks Conor's gone a little bonkers, and tells his kid to cut it out.
- So Conor changes the subject yet again: he doesn't want to live with Grandma. Can he come live in America instead?
- Eesh. This conversation becomes a major bummer right quick. His dad has lots of excuses: their house is small, they have a baby, etc. It's really best that Conor stays with his gram.
- Best for whom? Conor wants to know.
- The waitress brings their pizzas. Dad has ordered an Americano.
- Conor says that if the pizza could talk, it would sound like his dad.
Americans Don't Get Much Holiday
- Back at Grandma's, Conor's dad says he's only staying a few days, because Americans don't get much holiday (that's Brit-speak for vacation).
- Conor reminds his dad that he's not an American, but that doesn't change anything. Bottom line? Dad can't stay. But he promises to come back when he needs to.
- Conor knows what that means, and it makes him angry. When his dad asks if Conor wants company, Conor says no and goes into Grandma's house alone.
- Inside, he kicks the settee a few times, leaving satisfying scratches on his grandma's perfect floor. Then he looks up and sees the clock.
- It's about to chime nine o'clock. Just before it chimes, Conor reaches up to turn the hands toward the 12. He accidentally breaks the clock, and it stops.
- Immediately, he knows he's done something really, really bad. Grandma's house is your classic pristine old lady's house and now he's gone and messed it up.
- Plus, he's stopped the hands at 12:07.
- Sure enough, the monster shows up, right there in the living room.
- He's here to tell Conor a story about a man who thought only of himself.
The Second Tale
- It's time for story number two, which takes place during the industrial revolution. There wasn't not much greenery left, but it was there if you knew where to look.
- Bam: the monster conjures a field of green in the living room, and the story plays out in real time.
- The field overlooks a valley of brick, and from that valley comes a Johnny Cash-looking dude. He's dressed all in black, and he's frowning.
- According to our monster, he's the town Apothecary (a.k.a. pharmacist.) That means he makes medicine from herbs, bark, leaves, and berries.
- But those things are getting harder to find now that the land is being covered with factories, and the Apothecary's a greedy dude anyway. He's been charging people a lot for medicine, which seems pretty tacky to Shmoop.
- When the people start seeking more modern remedies from more modern doctors, the Apothecary gets super bitter.
- In this village, the monster says, there also lives a parson with two beloved daughters.
- On the grounds of the parsonage is, yup, a yew tree, and the Apothecary really wants its bark. Apparently it's a cure-all for just about every ailment you can think of.
- But in order to use the tree, the Apothecary has to cut it down, and the parson says no dice.
- That is, until his daughters get sick, and modern doctors can do nothing for them.
- Suddenly the parson finds himself begging the Apothecary for help. But the Apothecary says no dice right back at the parson. See, the guy had stood in his way, refusing him the tree and telling his parishioners not to patronize bogus healers when there are real doctors to be had. So he's not really in the mood to grant any favors.
- Please, says the parson, I'll give up whatever you want.
- Including your beliefs? asks the Apothecary.
- Yes, says the parson, anything.
- The Apothecary's response: then I really can't help you.
- That night, the parson's daughters die, and the tree comes walking.
- But instead of punishing the Apothecary, the monster tears the parson's house down.
The Rest of the Second Tale
- Why would he do such a thing?
- Well, to be fair, the parson doubted the Apothecary when times were easy. But when things got tough, he was willing to throw away his beliefs.
- As would anyone, Conor tells the monster. What else did the monster expect?
- The monster says he expected the parson to give the Apothecary the tree when he asked the first time. Sure, the monster would have been killed when the tree was cut down, but the medicine would have saved both the parson's daughters and a bunch of other people, too.
- Then the monster invites Conor to join in the destruction of the parsonage. To show Conor how fun it is, he busts up a settee that looks a lot like Conor's grandma's.
- Totally into it, Conor helps the monster bust up the parson's whole living room.
- You see where this is going, right? When the monster disappears, Conor's realizes it was actually his Grandma's living room he destroyed.
- Conor looks down and realizes his hands are bloody.
- And there's no monster.
- Grandma's car pulls into the driveway.
- Dun dun dun.
- When she comes into the house, she sees the living room and starts wailing, but it's not about the living room. She's shocked at the living room, but the wailing is about Conor's mom, of course.
- And then she screams, and comes tearing through the living room, kicking everything. Looks like she's joining in the mayhem.
- She grabs the only thing still standing, her display cabinet full of precious fragile things, and pulls it to the ground before going to her room.
- Conor spends the night trying to clean up the mess, but it's too much for the little guy. At dawn, he goes to bed, and he hears his grandma still awake in her room, weeping.
- The next day at school, Lily's ignoring Conor. She's yet another person who's treating him like he's invisible.
- So it's a bit of a relief when Conor's bullies come up to him. Hey, at least they notice he exists.
- We flashback to the night before, when Conor only slept enough to have the nightmare with the screaming and the falling.
- When he went downstairs for breakfast, his father was in the kitchen making some grub.
- The two have another talk, the gist of which is this: Conor's mom has gotten worse, Grandma's on the way to the hospital, and Dad's going to take Conor to school.
- Of course Conor doesn't want to go to school; he wants to see his mom.
- But dad puts the kibosh on that right quick, because things are looking pretty dire. He promises, though, to pick Conor up right after school and take him to her, unless he needs to come get him earlier.
- Oh, and about the living room: neither dad nor Grandma are mad. They're going to pretend it never happened.
- Flash forward to the present, where we're back school, and everybody's being extra-nice to Conor. That's why he's so glad to see the bullies approaching.
- When Harry acts reticent about beating him up, Conor says just to do it.
- Harry won't, though. He just walks away like Conor's invisible to him, too.
- At the hospital that afternoon, Dad and Grandma make themselves scarce while Conor goes in to see his mom.
- She's got to tell him the obvious thing: the new treatment isn't working.
- But she wants to tell him something else, too: the drug they've tried, the last-ditch effort, is made of yew trees.
- Conor asks if it's going to save her, even though they both know it's already failing.
- His mom says she hopes so.
Could it Be?
- Maybe, Conor thinks as he stands in the hospital hallway, the real reason the monster came was to save his mom.
- But just as he's wondering this, he hears his dad and grandma down the hall, fighting.
- His dad finally walks away from Grandma, comes up to Conor, and says he has to fly back to America because the new baby is sick.
- But he'll be back in less than two weeks. Which is cool with Conor, because the new medicine will have made his mom better by then.
- The dad rains all over the kiddo's parade by saying that the medicine probably isn't going to make her better.
- Apparently, Grandma wasn't just mad at Conor's dad because he's going back to America. She was mad because neither of Conor's parents has been honest with him throughout this whole thing.
- But Conor wants none of the honesty. The medicine's made from yew trees; surely that's why the monster has come to save his mom. The monster is a yew tree, after all.
- And it will probably be that night. It's only eight more hours until 12:07, when the monster will save his mom's life.
- That night, Grandma takes Conor home while his mom sleeps in her hospital bed.
- At 12:07, the monster comes, and Conor goes outside to ask if it can heal his mom.
- The monster says that if anything will work, it will be the yew tree medicine.
- Which is not an answer, of course. Why, Conor asks, if the monster can tear down houses and go from being a tree to a monster at will, can't he save Conor's mom?
- The monster says Conor still doesn't get it. He doesn't understand why he summoned the monster at all.
- Conor says he didn't summon the monster unless it was in a dream, in which case he totally did so to heal his mom.
- No, says the monster, Conor summoned him because he needed to tell someone the truth.
- His grandma's yard drops away, and suddenly he finds himself inside his nightmare.
- And we finally see a glimpse of what it's about: the edges of the world are crumbling away, Conor's holding a woman's hands, and can't hang on. He feels the woman fall.
- No no no, Conor tells the monster. He wants the monster to get on with the third story; wants to know what's going to happen to his mom.
- No story tonight, though. The monster tells Conor to look for him soon, then vanishes in a gust of wind.
I No Longer See You
- The next day at school, it's the same story: everybody's ignoring Conor, who's still convinced the monster has come to save his mother.
- He's actually begging the monster under his breath at lunch when the bullies come and knock his juice into his lap. Then they tease him, saying he's wet himself.
- Real original, guys.
- That's it. After they've done that, Harry says he's going to do the worst thing to Conor he can do.
- He shakes his hand, says, "I no longer see you," and walks away with his friends. None of them look back. Oof. That was rough.
- The clock in the lunchroom strikes 12:07, and there's the monster, right on cue, ready to tell the third story.
The Third Tale
- This one's about an invisible man. He's not really invisible, though. People have just grown used to not seeing him.
- And if nobody sees you, are you really there at all?
- Suddenly, Conor yells at Harry, but Harry doesn't turn around.
- The monster tells Conor that one day the invisible man decided he would make people see him.
- How? By calling for a monster, of course.
- Like the one who reaches out and knocks Harry over.
- Harry yells at Conor, saying he thinks he's so special because his mom's sick, and that he walks around acting like nobody knows how much he's suffering, but what he really wants is to be punished.
- But what Harry sees when he looks at Conor, he says, is nothing.
- Oh it's on like Donkey Kong, Shmoopers.
- The monster lunges toward Harry to make him see.
- Conor's in the headmistress' office because he put Harry in the hospital with a broken arm, nose, and teeth.
- Yikes. Harry's parents, of course, are furious, but Miss Kwan has explained to them that Harry was bullying Conor because of Conor's "special" circumstances.
- When Harry's parents heard about the bullying, Miss Kwan tells Conor, they backed off. After all, Harry can't get into a good college if he has accusations of bullying on his record.
- The headmistress says that's not the point. She can't even figure out how one boy could have caused so much destruction all by himself.
- While the monster was beating Harry, it was screaming, "Never invisible again."
- Then it told Conor there were worse things than being invisible, dropped a few leaves on the floor, and disappeared.
- Conor tells the headmistress it wasn't him, it was the monster. But understandably, that's not good enough for her. The rules say that Conor has to be expelled.
- Which comes as a relief to Conor—finally he's being punished. He's being seen.
- Not so fast. The headmistress decides instead that expelling him would do no good. They'll talk more about him beating up Harry someday, but not now.
- And nobody speaks to Conor for the rest of the day. We guess he'll have to stay invisible just a little while longer.
- The days go by, and even fewer people are talking to Conor. The kids at school are still ignoring him, his mom's always sleeping, his grandma's too preoccupied and exhausted, and his dad has nothing to say when he calls to check on his son.
- Worst of all, the monster's gone. Apparently it's not talking to him either.
- The nightmare's still happening, though. Now Conor has it several times a night.
- The day Mrs. Marl hands back the life writing papers (in case you forgot about those), Conor doesn't get one, because he didn't write one.
- In class, Lily hands him a note. In it, she apologizes for blabbing about his mom and says she misses being his friend.
- The last line of the note is "I see you," underlined over and over again. Aw.
- Just as he turns to speak to her, the school secretary comes in and whispers something to Mrs. Marl.
- They both turn to look at Conor.
- Uh oh.
- At the hospital, Conor expects the worst.
- But his mom's sitting up in bed smiling at him. The yew tree must have healed her, he thinks.
- Then he sees the sadness in her eyes—despite the smile—and knows they wouldn't have pulled him out of school if something weren't really wrong.
- She finally tells him the treatment has flat out failed. She has an infection, and while she had thought that her friend the yew tree would help, no such luck.
- Conor can be as angry as he wants, she says. Even at her. She'll forgive him. She knows everything he wants to say to her without him having to tell her.
- Then she pushes her painkiller button and goes to sleep, but not before telling him she wishes she had a hundred more years to give to him.
- Conor tells his grandma he wants to go home. To his house, not hers—the house with the yew tree.
What's the Use of You?
- His grandma takes him home, where Conor realizes he'll probably never be able to go again. She tells him she'll be back to get him in an hour, then drives away to go back to the hospital.
- The tree stays a tree, even though Conor yells at it to wake up.
- He even starts kicking the darn thing…
… which is just annoying enough to make it come to life. The monster tells Conor he'll hurt himself if he doesn't cut it out.
- Conor's straight up furious. He tells the tree it said it could help his mother, and it didn't. Not cool, tree.
- Pardonnez-moi? The monster says that it didn't say that at all. What it said was that if Conor's mom could be healed, the yew tree medicine could do it. But apparently she couldn't be healed. That's that.
- Conor wants to know what the use of the monster is if it can't heal her. Fair question, kiddo. He thinks that all the monster came to do was get him in trouble.
- The monster grabs the kid and holds him in the air. It's time for a real talking-to. It tells him that he, Conor, is the only one who can answer the question of why he summoned the monster.
- To heal her, says Conor. Why else?
- No, says the monster. Conor called it so it could heal him.
- And now it's time for Conor to tell the monster the fourth tale.
- Conor says he doesn't have time, but the monster has taken him back into the nightmare, so at this point, he doesn't have much of a choice.
The Fourth Tale
- The monster tells Conor that if Conor doesn't tell the fourth tale, the monster will have to do it for him, and it won't be pretty.
- And when Conor begs the monster to let him go back to his mom, he just tells the boy that there's no need—she's already there with him.
- There's a cliff in the nightmare, and his mom's standing at the edge of it. Conor yells at her to move away, but she says she's fine and there's nothing to worry about.
- He hears the second monster, the monster in the chasm, roaring from below, then sees it climbing up the cliff to grab his mother.
- But Conor can't run until the monster pulls her down. So he gets there just in time to grab her hands, and nothing more.
- She begs him to help her, not to let her go. Conor yells that he won't, but the pit monster is pulling really hard.
- The yew tree monster tells Conor that this is the fourth story, but Conor tells it to shut up.
- Suddenly, he loses his grasp on his mother, and she falls into the pit.
The Rest of the Fourth Tale
- This is the point at which Conor usually wakes up, but the monster's not letting him off the hook tonight.
- So Conor begs again. He simply has to go see her.
- The monster says she's not there anymore, because Conor let her go.
- And when Conor says that it was just a nightmare, the monster tells him it's the truth. But Conor has to tell it himself, or he can never leave the nightmare.
- The truth the monster wants—the thing he wants Conor to say—is that his mother didn't fall.
- He let her go. In fact, he wanted her to fall.
- Though Conor says it will kill him to tell the truth, the monster just won't let him off the hook. It wants to know why Conor let go in the first place.
- And finally, with much difficulty, Conor tells: he couldn't stand it anymore. He just wanted it to be over with.
Life After Death
- Conor asks the monster why the pit monster didn't kill him. After all, he deserved the punishment, right?
- Ah, but the monster's not so sure about that.
- Conor says he knows he was selfish, but he just wanted to stop thinking about it. He just wanted it to end.
- The monster tells Conor he's finally told the truth, and that's what he was after all along.
- Worried, Conor says he didn't mean to let her go, but he did, and now she's going to die because of him.
- Not so, says the monster. It wasn't Conor's fault. He just wanted his pain to end. And that's totally understandable.
- Still, Conor's a bit stuck. He says he didn't mean it, to which the monster replies that he did and he didn't.
- How can both those be true?
- Well, as it turns out, that's the point of the monster's stories: humans are complicated. The queen was both a good witch and a bad witch. The prince was both a murderer and a savior. The apothecary was both evil and right. Invisible men become lonelier when they're seen.
- Just like how Conor knew the truth that made the lies necessary. He needed to believe his mom would get better because it was too painful to know she was dying.
- Unfortunately, the human mind will punish us for believing both. And the only way to fight those conflicting thoughts and all the havoc they wreak is to tell the truth.
- What the monster came to tell him—the reason the tree came to life—was that Conor needed to know we write our lives with actions—not words.
- Thoughts, says the monster, aren't wrong, because they're not actions.
- Conor suddenly realizes he's exhausted, and the monster tells him to sleep. Then it makes its hands into a nest, and Conor crawls in for some shut-eye.
- He wants to ask the monster why it always comes at 12:07, but he's asleep before he can speak.
Something in Common
- Grandma's flipping out because her grandson has gone missing. When she finally finds Conor sleeping under the yew tree, she comes running, yelling his name.
- They have to go to the hospital, stat.
- On the way, Conor tries to say he's sorry, but his grandma's not looking for apologies.
- She tells Conor that the two of them may not be a natural fit, but they're going to have to learn, and Conor finally admits that he knows.
- His grandma says they do have something in common, though: his mom.
- She pulls into the hospital and tells Conor to hurry.
- In the hospital room, Conor's mother is unconscious and barely breathing.
- Grandma takes his mom's hand and tells her that she and Conor are there.
- His mom wakes up long enough to reach for Conor's hand.
- The monster appears behind him and tells him this part—in which Conor is holding her hand and not letting go—is the end of the fourth tale.
- Conor asks what he's supposed to do, and the monster says to tell her the truth.
- He tells her he doesn't want her to go.
- Her last words to him are, "I know."
- It's 11:46. He knows that at 12:07, she'll go.