A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls Summary and Analysis of Yew Trees – A Note


Conor visits his mother in the hospital. She struggles to sit up. Grandma and Liam leave Conor alone with her. She smiles and has him sit with her. Orange fluid is being pumped into her body. She explains that the treatments haven’t been working and things are going faster than she’d hoped. Conor’s stomach twists. She says it isn’t too late though; there is one more thing the doctors can try. She says the drug is actually made from yew trees; she says she hopes it will save her.

Conor goes out to the hospital corridor and thinks about the yew tree medicine. He wonders if the monster has come to help after all. He sees Grandma and Liam fighting down the corridor. Grandma returns to the hospital room. Liam tells Conor she’s mad at him. He says he needs to fly home to America tonight because the baby is sick and Stephanie, his new wife, took her to the hospital.

They leave the hospital for a walk. Liam says the new medicine probably isn’t going to make Conor’s mother well. He says Grandma is mad because Liam and Conor’s mother hasn’t been honest with Conor about what’s really happening. Conor cuts him off and says the new medicine will work, he knows it. Liam says stories don’t always have happy endings. Liam shakes his head and says it is unfair and cruel and not how things should be. Liam says he’ll return the Sunday after next and stay as long as he can. Conor looks at the clock on the front of the hospital and notes that there are eight hours until 12:07.

After Conor’s mother falls asleep without having eaten, Grandma drives Conor back to her house. They don’t speak about the destroyed sitting room. At 12:07 Conor goes outside and asks the monster if it can heal her. The monster says the yew is a healing tree, and the form it choose most to walk in. Conor says it’s not really an answer, and the monster gives an evil grin. The monster says it is not up to it to heal her, but if Conor’s mother can be healed, the yew tree will do it. The monster sits on a shed and asks Conor if he still doesn’t know why he called the monster to come walking. The monster says it isn’t time for the third story and reminds Conor that he will tell his truth after the third. The backyard fills with mist and changes to a grey, empty space—the space of Conor’s nightmare. The edges of the world crumble away. Conor shouts that it isn’t his truth, it’s just a nightmare. The mist goes away. Conor says he wants to know what’s going to happen with his mother. The monster asks if he doesn’t know already.

The next morning Conor tells Grandma he doesn’t want to go to school. She doesn’t respond. Conor asks if the new medicine is working and she pauses before saying it is too soon to tell. He asks when his mother is coming home and she doesn’t respond. At school, Conor doesn't speak to anyone and doesn’t eat lunch. "Please," Conor thinks, "please." Just then, Sully knocks his orange juice onto his lap. Harry stands with his arms crossed and tells Conor he knows what the worst thing he can do is, what will be the worst hit of all. He holds out his hand and Conor automatically shakes it. Harry looks into his eyes and says goodbye and that he can no longer see Conor. Harry walks away without looking back. The digital clock in the lunchroom ticks over to 12:07 and the monster says it is time for the third tale.

There was once an invisible man, the monster begins, who grew tired of being unseen. Conor walks after Harry and the monster follows. The monster says the man wasn’t invisible, but people had become used to not seeing him; and if no one sees you, are you really there at all? Conor calls out “Hey!” to Harry. The monster says the invisible man decided he would make them see him by calling for a monster. As he says it, the monster reaches out a huge hand and knocks Harry flying across the floor. Harry stands up with blood coming from his head. Conor asks if Harry doesn’t see him and Harry says he doesn’t—no one does. Conor continues advancing toward Harry, feeling the monster behind him.

Harry takes a step back and asks in a poisonous voice if Conor really thinks he’s ever going to be afraid of the boy who everyone’s so sorry for because of his mum; who acts like no one knows his suffering. Conor, the boy who wants to be punished, he continues, who needs to be punished. Harry asks what secrets Conor is hiding that make him feel he is terrible and worthy of punishment. Harry says he sees nothing when he looks at Conor. Conor asks what the monster did to help the invisible man. The monster says he made them see. Conor clenches his fist and the monster leaps forward “to make Harry see.”

The next chapter begins in the headmistress’s office. She tells Conor he broke Harry’s nose, messed up his teeth, and put him in the hospital. The headmistress says she isn’t sure how one boy could cause so much damage by himself. The narrator explains that he felt Harry’s body resisting as the monster held Harry’s arm behind his back and pummeled his face. The headmistress says she hasn’t been able to contact a guardian; Conor says his Grandma puts her phone on silent so as not to wake his mother.

The headmistress says school rules dictate immediate expulsion. Conor feels the weight of his sinking stomach, but then realizes he feels relief at being punished. However, the headmistress says she couldn’t possibly see the purpose of punishing him given the circumstances of Harry’s bullying and Conor’s mother. Miss Kwan leads him back to class. Students give him space as he passes and no one speaks to him for the rest of the day. Conor is no longer invisible, but he is further away than ever.

Days pass, blending into one big grey day from Conor’s perspective. Conor waits every night for the monster but it doesn’t appear. One day in class Lily hands Conor a note. In the note, Lily writes: "I'm sorry for telling everyone about your mum. I miss being your friend. Are you okay? I see you." The I is underlined hundreds of times. Just as Conor starts to say Lily’s name, the school secretary enters and beckons Mrs. Marl over and whispers to her. Both women turn to look at Conor.


In an instance of situational irony, Conor’s mother’s last-resort anti-cancer drug is made from the bark of yew trees. Despite the image of her body hooked up to tubes in the hospital, Conor continues to deny that she isn’t going to recover and takes the coincidence of the yew tree–derived medicine as evidence that the yew tree has come to heal his mother after all.

But Conor’s optimism is tested when his father attempts to explain that his mother isn’t going to get better. In contrast to Conor’s mother’s effort to uphold the pretense that her health will improve, Conor’s father tries directly to address her rapidly declining health. He says that Conor’s grandmother is unhappy with him and Conor’s mother because they haven’t been addressing the elephant in the room; because of their lack of transparency, Conor has been able to remain isolated in his denial of the truth. Ness illustrates how strongly Conor has invested in his instinctive denial by showing Conor cutting off his father and insisting that his mother will get better.

Conor takes his hopes of healing to the monster that night, but the monster replies cryptically, saying that if she can be healed, the yew tree will heal her. The monster also answers Conor’s request for help by reminding him of his nightmare, which the monster briefly transports Conor into. In this way, the monster tries to lead Conor to accept that the truth of his question of whether his mother can be healed lies in his nightmare. But Conor digs deeper into his denial by angrily refusing to accept that his nightmare contains the truth.

The theme of anger returns when Conor confronts Harry. Harry accurately assesses that Conor derives some satisfaction from being seen by Harry, and so Harry decides the worst thing he can do to Conor is feign not being able to see him. While it may seem that Conor should be relieved that his tormentor is no longer paying attention to him, Conor responds in anger, incensed that Harry could perceive that Conor believes he deserves punishment for what he does in his shameful nightmare.

The monster appears to guide Conor through an analogous allegory about a man who wishes to make himself visible to the people who have ceased to pay attention to him. Conor borrows the monster’s strength and unleashes the anger that has been simmering within him since his mother’s diagnosis, violently assaulting Harry with so much power that Harry needs to go to the hospital. In another instance of situational irony, Conor is relieved when he believes the headmistress is going to punish him. However, she takes pity on Conor because of his mother’s cancer and decides that it would be needlessly cruel to punish him.

Conor is disappointed to learn that his classmates can now seem him again, but his violent outburst has only entrenched his outsider status, and he feels further from them than he had when invisible. The first reprieve to Conor’s isolation comes when Lily passes him a note in which she says she can see him. However, the moment in which the two friends begin to heal their relationship is interrupted when Conor is pulled out of class to see his mother in the hospital.