From the acclaimed author of the Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls comes one of the most provocative teen novels of our time. A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is this possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? The street seems familiar, but everything is abandoned, overgrown, covered in dust.
What's going on? Is it real? Or has he woken up in his own personal hell? Seth begins to search for answers, hoping desperately that there must be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife....
©2002 Reproduced by permission of EMI Music Publishing Ltd/Real World Music Ltd, London W1F 9LD. All Rights Reserved. (P)2013 Patrick Ness, original book published by Candlewick Press. P 2013 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved. “Borrowing Time” written by Aimee Mann, published by Aimee Mann, sub-published by Fintage Publishing B.V. All Rights Reserved. “More Than This” words and music by Peter Gabriel
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I was a fan of Patrick Ness’s harrowing young adult science fiction novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go. That series explored some pretty dark, serious themes (adults lying to kids, religious craziness, manipulation, war) and had some interesting twists, so I thought I’d check out his latest novel.
More Than This is a book that mixes weighty issues with a Twilight Zone-esque premise and a narrative that turns at right angles, keeping the reader guessing. In the opening pages, teenage Seth is dying in the ocean, broken against rocks. He wakes up, if that’s the right term, in his childhood town in England. Except the town appears to have been abandoned for many years, and Seth seems to be alone.
As we learn from Seth’s flashbacks while he wanders the desolate, otherworldly place, which he dubs “hell”, his short life was rough. He’s had to deal with guilt over a terrible incident involving his younger brother, which he feels responsible for, two distant parents, homosexuality, and estrangement from his friends. Quite a lot for any young man. As it turns out, though, Seth isn’t alone in this mysterious afterlife. There are others, who are dealing with their own grief. And there’s also an enemy, a sort of literal Death figure.
The first half of the book keeps new revelations coming at us, each arriving like a bombshell that churns up the landscape of what we know so far. Questions are raised about which reality is really “real”, though the eventual vehicle for this is a somewhat clunky sci-fi backstory that might or might not be meant to be taken at face value itself. If I’m correct about “might not”, it would certainly be a bold choice for a young adult author to leave his readers with an existential hall of mirrors. Perhaps Ness will write a sequel?
But, even though the book ends with a lot of question marks and some of its action gets a little repetitive, MTT is carried by the intelligence of its writing, the maturity of its themes, and the emotional weight of Seth’s memories. Two supporting characters that arrive about a third of the way in are enjoyably written, and provide a degree of comic relief (which lord knows is needed). I suspect that a book like this might be a bit too heavy and epistemological-minded for many of readers in the intended age range, but there are always those that can handle it.
If you’re new to Ness, you should probably start with the more straightforward Chaos Walking trilogy, but this is a good next step. I’ll put it somewhere around 3.5 stars. Audiobook narrator Nick Podehl, who seems to be everywhere these days, delivers another solid performance.
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