Two Books About Grief: A Monster Calls and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry


Official Synopsis from Goodreads: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Fiction
Setting: Modern day England
My copy came from: I purchased the paperback from Amazon.

MyGrandmotherAskedMeCoverOffical Synopsis from Goodreads: From the author of the internationally bestselling A Man Called Ove, a novel about a young girl whose grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters, sending her on a journey that brings to life the world of her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Setting: Modern-day Sweden
My copy came from: I borrowed this from a family member.

***This post contains affiliate links***

My Thoughts: Somewhat of a different format today, but I really enjoyed both of these books, for very different reasons. I did not read these books with the intent of reviewing them together, but they ended up having such similar themes that I thought, why not? Both A Monster Calls and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (shortened to My Grandmother for this review) deal with the loss of a parent figure due to cancer.

Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.

(from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry)

In A Monster Calls, we hear from Conor, who is age 13, and dealing with his mother’s battle with cancer. In My Grandmother, we meet Elsa, age 7, whose granny dies unexpectedly (to Elsa), and Elsa is tasked with various letters to deliver. Both children are bullied at school, and both have strained family relationships. Conor doesn’t get along with his grandmother, while Elsa doesn’t understand her mother.

The main difference between Conor and Elsa is that Conor is likeable, while Elsa is absolutely not. Elsa is actually a total brat, and I really struggled with the beginning of My Grandmother, as Elsa and her granny are both very frustrating, almost obnoxious, characters. Scenes where Granny shoots a neighbor with a paintball gun weren’t endearing, nor were the scenes with Elsa yelling at her mom or others. I almost stopped reading the book that was how much these two characters annoyed me! But, I pressed on, and I was rewarded with a complex story dealing with the many different ways that people deal with grief.

Both books have elements of fantasy within. In A Monster Calls, the monster is a yew tree that comes to life and speaks to Conor, telling him stories and talking to him. There was nothing remotely scary in A Monster Calls, so please don’t be turned off by the synopsis and cover. In My Grandmother, Elsa’s granny tells her stories set in a fantasy world, and Elsa relies on these stories to deal with the bullying and later on, her grief. I much preferred the fantasy elements in A Monster Calls; they weren’t overdone and were easy to understand. The elements in My Grandmother felt out of place, and just too much. There were all these different lands, and different characters, and whenever Elsa would start talking about these fantasy stories, I would tune out, as they just didn’t interest me at all.

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?

(from A Monster Calls)

Both books stirred my emotions, with the edge going to A Monster Calls. As Conor faces his mother’s illness, the emotions run high, and there were sections that just gutted me. In My Grandmother, the story felt more complex, as characters dealt with the aftermath of warfare, natural events, illness, drinking, death, and others. Both books were very heavy; neither of them were “happy” reads.

People in the real world always say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will “lessen as time passes,” but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyze us. So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.

(from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry)

All in all, I liked A Monster Calls better, as it told a simpler story, and I connected with the characters more and liked the fantastical elements better. A Monster Calls also has beautiful illustrations. While I ended up really liking My Grandmother, I did struggle with the characters and didn’t care for the fantasy elements. If you haven’t read a Fredrik Backman novel before, I wouldn’t start with My Grandmother. Try A Man Called Ove or Britt-Marie Was Here first instead. The character of Britt-Marie is in My Grandmother, but she is so unlikeable here that if I had read My Grandmother first, I doubt I would’ve picked up Britt-Marie Was Here, she was that unlikable.

Bottom Line for A Monster Calls: Powerful and sad.
Bottom Line for My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry: Annoying characters, but there’s a good story here, one that I ended up really liking.

LINKS: (the Amazon links are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on the link and end up purchasing something from Amazon)

Have you read either of these books? Did they feel like realistic representations of grief to you? Have you seen the movie adaptation of A Monster Calls? Is it a good adaptation?


19 thoughts on “Two Books About Grief: A Monster Calls and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

  1. I’ve seen wonderful reviews about a Monster Calls but have never read it. The movie trailer looked promising as well. But I read My Grandma and thought it was an exceptional story. It was incredibly complex especially in connection with the fantasy and story elements within the story. It was heart breaking at times but also wonderfully uplifting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A Monster Calls is very good! I’m looking forward to the movie to see how they bring the story to life.
      My Grandmother was so very complex – so heartbreaking. I wasn’t sure about the book and then when all the stuff about the tsunami was revealed that’s when I really started to get a sense of where the book was going. I thought the way he handled all the different types of grief was interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly!! I had no idea where the book was going. NONE!! It all came so much clearer over the course of the book, but I was stunned by how well he weaved the different arcs and stories together. Thought it was an incredibly well plotted book.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes – I think it is his most complex book. I haven’t read his latest book yet though. I agree that the different arcs were all brought together very nicely. It didn’t feel forced to me at all!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. There was a pregnant woman in A Man Called Ove (I forget her name) who spent the whole book screaming at, bullying, and sometimes hitting Ove. I think it was supposed to be endearing–I think it perhaps it was even supposed to be cute, like little-woman-thumping-someone’s-chest-with-her-tiny-fists kind of cute, but I hate her. I don’t care if her abuse made a tiny impact, she’s still a fricken bully. Elsa and the grandma sound somewhat similar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! I have to admit that I didn’t read that character in Ove that way. I know who you’re talking about – didn’t her name start with a P? Parveh or something like that? But I honestly never thought of her as a bully – I read her as more endearing. But yeah, Elsa and her grandmother are like that but plus like a million, so they were really tough for me to get into. And even at the end I didn’t necessarily like either of them, but I could understand a lot more – especially when it came to Elsa, the young girl.


        1. I didn’t notice it at all! Now I want to go back and re-read Ove. Which I won’t – not yet – someday I’ll re-read it because I loved the book but not quite yet. Fascinating that we all pick up on different things when we read – it’s part of the reason why I love blogging and book clubs and book discussions! Everyone notices something different!


    1. Thanks! And I had no idea that the books were going to have such similar themes when I picked them both up!
      A Monster Calls really hit me hard. It was told so simply, but it was so beautiful! I really loved it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched the movie of A Monster Calls, but have not read the book. Going by the trailers I had seen, I was SOOOO not prepared for the movie. We did not expect to by sobbing by the end of the movie. We didn’t even realize it was supposed to deal so heavily with grief and emotions! Though to be honest, I’m not sure we would have seen it, had we known. It was very good, just not what we were expecting to see that particular night. (Not a very good pick for a date movie!) The movie itself was beautiful, though. The stories-within-a-story were very well done. I can’t speak to how good of an adaptation it is, as I haven’t read the book, but the movie was good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear the movie is good! But yeah, I can see how it wouldn’t be a great date night movie. I’ve been really surprised that the marketing for the book and the movie haven’t really said what it is about.
      I’m really looking forward to watching the movie!


  4. I absolutely loved how you compared the two books here- I haven’t read my grandmother, but I think it would be hard for any book to beat Monster calls- so I totally get why you preferred it 😉 I agree that the fantasy is perfectly balanced in monster calls and it is such a powerful read! Fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

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