More Than This: Original and refreshing YA

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMore Than This by Patrick Ness YA fantasy book reviewsMore Than This by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness casts his line with five words, and we are hooked: “Here is the boy, drowning.” Seth is sixteen years old when we meet him, and about to die. He is out at sea with the icy tide dragging him out further and further in a terrifying opening for Ness’s Young Adult novel, More Than This. And then his shoulder blade “snaps in two so loudly he can hear the crack.” Seth drowns.

But impossibly, he wakes up. He finds himself in his childhood home in England, in a kind of twisted post-apocalyptic version of his past. It is completely abandoned, devoid of other humans, choked by overgrown weeds and everything covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt. The reader is as intrigued and lost as Seth is, and it is through his eyes that we must discover how and why Seth came to be here.

Ness paints Seth with utmost compassion and sympathy, and through a series of artfully-placed and well-paced flashbacks we gradually learn about Seth’s past, about his mother’s objection to a gay relationship he is in, about the heartbreaking abduction of his younger brother that tears Seth’s family apart.

Every time he falls asleep in the strange limbo-cum-oblivion he has found himself in, he must relive these painful memories. But back in the present, Seth must come to terms with where exactly he has ended up after his apparent death. Enter Regine, a prickly black girl, and Tomasz, an endearing young Polish boy, who have also woken up from their deaths to find themselves here. Then there is the enigmatic Driver: a terrifying helmeted figure with supernatural strength that is after the three teenagers.

It is a great time to be a Young Adult writer. Under the classification of YA, this book is sci-fi, thriller, mystery, fantasy and existential philosophy all rolled into one, as well as being the very human tale of Seth’s struggle — the struggle that every teenager has had — of trying to overcome the feeling that there has to be more than this. Ness explores the feelings of isolation, of disillusionment, of despair that are familiar to teenagers (and that many adults carry into later life too). Most heartrending perhaps is our discovery of why Seth believes he’s played a part in his brother’s abduction and the pain he must have experienced carrying that burden with him.

The blossoming friendship between Seth, Regine and Tomasz is warming and hilarious in equal parts. Tomasz is the foil for Seth’s introverted nature and Regine’s hostility, and it is impossible not to be lured into the trio’s plight and search for answers. My only slight gripe would be its parallels with The Matrix — the strange casket-pods that are designed to deal with all human bodily functions, and the enigmatic computer-creature, the Driver, trying to shuttle them all back online. I also found myself waiting for the Driver to turn up at the end of every chapter, because every cliff hanger (literally, every cliff hanger) involved his unlikely reappearance at every turn.

Still, in a market saturated by oppressive dystopian societies and an under-informed female protagonist single-handedly bringing down said oppression, More Than This is an original and refreshing read (with more sympathetically sketched characters to boot). Gripping from start to finish, I’d be surprised if readers weren’t devouring More Than This in a single sitting.

Publisher: From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life — or perhaps afterlife — of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world. A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. I have not yet read anything by Patrick Ness. Maybe I can get to it in 2015!

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