More Than This

Ask me what my favorite book is, and I’ll pause because, for some reason, my FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME isn’t all that popular in the United States. Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go should be the most famous dystopian young adult novel of all time. It’s far better written, way more thought-provoking, and definitely more relevant than The Hunger Games (which I liked a lot, so no offense there). It inspired me to write my M.A. thesis (I even borrowed a quote for the title of my thesis), and it gets better every time I read it (four times now). Ness’ follow-up young adult novel, called A Monster Calls, was beautiful and haunting and award-winning and NOTHING like his Chaos Walking trilogy. Ness is brilliant. He is versatile. And he breaks my heart every flipping time.

I’ve finally finished his newest book More Than This.

* * *

More-Than-This-Patrick-Ness-628x1024“‘People see stories everywhere,’ Regine says. ‘That’s what my father used to say. We take random events and we put them together in a pattern so we can comfort ourselves with a story, no matter how much it obviously isn’t true.’ She glances back at Seth. ‘We have to lie to ourselves to live. Otherwise, we’d go crazy.'”

* * *

More Than This was released last month, and I’ve been reading it for the better part of a month, only because it’s impossible to read when one is a writing teacher, not because the book wasn’t utterly engrossing.

The book begins hauntingly: “Here is the boy, drowning.” No pretense. Seth dies before we’ve even reached the official first chapter. Seth, our protagonist, wakes up in a desolate wasteland in the town in England where he lived as a child. He is alone, naked, and covered in metallic bandages. The head injury the he sustained before drowning seems to have no bearing on this reality in which he exists now. And he’s got to figure out what’s going on.

He thinks he’s in hell, that this is the afterlife: alone, transported to a place where his life was utterly different. He believes he has to pay penance for the choices he made as both a child and a teenager. Then, he meets Regine, a large, sassy, black girl, and Tomasz, an intelligent, sweet, brave Polish boy. And his understanding–as well as our understanding–of reality completely shifts.

I can’t really say anything more than that. This book is a whole lot of things that have to be experienced on one’s own. It’s terrifying; I wouldn’t let myself read when I was home alone at night. I seriously tried to read as much as possible during daylight hours. This book is unnerving, constantly challenging my expectations of where the story was heading. This books is confrontational, as if it and I were in constant conversation; it kept subverting my understanding of the story and throwing ideas and philosophies in my face. If this book were a person, it and I would have some spectacular verbal fights. And maybe throw a few fists, too. And we would respect each other for our differences.

Terrifying, unnerving, and confrontational are good qualities for this story to have. It’s an existential journey through a desperate world; the characters and the readers will both question reality and push against the constraints of what is and ought to be. It’s a story about people who face a desolate future and know that there has to be more than this; they are the few who get the chance to find out what this is or might be, and they fight to find the truth and to discover what really matters.

That being said, the ending made me angry. I closed the book, closed my eyes, and said audibly, “What are you doing to me, Patrick Ness?” This book affected me differently than all his other books. I wanted a different ending; I wanted confirmation, closure, but the book wouldn’t give that to me. I don’t think the book is capable of giving that to me; everything contained within the story led to this conclusion. I just didn’t want to accept it.

Ugh, this is so vague. I can’t give you any more than this, though. (Did you see what I did there?) This book was fantastic, and Ness is still the genius I always thought him to be. When I read Ness’ books, I have to suspend my expectations, put my trust in his storytelling abilities, and hold on for the ride. It’s worth it every time, for the way he makes me perceive the world in which I live, for the way he makes me hope for better things in the face of adversity, for the way he makes me want to fight oppression and negativity. For the way I get absorbed in a story that engages my mind and my heart. For the way I want to yell at him for what he does to the story and then hug him for making my life better.

Patrick Ness is amazing. I have so much respect for him. And I’m doing my level best to convince everyone I know to read his stuff. Get to it, people!

Monsters of Men preview

Two of the best young adult novels I’ve ever read (and two of my favorites from last year’s reads) are Patrick Ness’ epic dystopian novels The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequel The Ask and the Answer. These two books are the first two in the Chaos Walking trilogy, and the last book Monsters of Men was released in the UK this week. Mr. Ness posted the trailer for the book on his blog, and it’s really awesome:

The only problem is the book won’t be released in the US until September. I have to wait five more months to get my hands on an authentic US copy. I’m seriously considering eBay–I might be able to order a copy from the UK, for far more money than I would pay if I waited until September. It might be worth it, though…especially since I’ve seen this trailer.

“I think the asking is whether we get back up again.”

knife“Maybe our story will turn out differently if we take the left fork, maybe the bad things that are waiting to happen to us won’t happen, maybe there’s happiness at the end of the left fork and warm places with the people who love us and no Noise but no silence neither and there’s plenty of food and no one dies and no one dies and no one never never dies.”

* * *

“Cuz I see Viola looking back at me as we run and there’s brightness on her face and she keeps urging me on with tilts of her head and smiles and I think how hope may be the thing that pulls you forward, may be the thing that keeps you going, but that it’s dangerous, too, that it’s painful and risky, that it’s making a dare to the world and when has the world ever let us win a dare?”

* * *

“‘Here’s what I think,’ I say and my voice is stronger and thoughts are coming, thoughts that trickle into my Noise like whispers of the truth. ‘I think maybe everybody falls,’ I say. ‘I think maybe we all do. And I don’t think that’s the asking.’

“I pull on her arms gently to make sure she’s listening.

“‘I think the asking is whether we get back up again.'”

* * *

This book has been sitting in my room for over a month, beckoning to me, tempting me to abandon my academic pursuits and fall into this incredible story.

I knew it would be incredible from the first moment I laid eyes on the cover. I was taking a break from grading and homework one Saturday morning, browsing the young adult section at Barnes & Noble, not expecting to find anything new that didn’t involve vampires or angsty darkness (not that this book isn’t dark, it’s just not that kind of dark). As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I’d found something impressive. First, there’s the image of a road. This book is about a journey–literal and figurative. And the title: what the heck could The Knife of Never Letting Go possibly mean? So I picked up the book, read the first chapter, and decided I must buy it before I shifted into responsible teacher mode and graded a stack of student journals in the B&N cafe.

When I went home sick on Tuesday, I decided to curl up on the couch and read because that’s what I do when I’m sick. But I was caught up on all my reading for school, so I realized the time had come to read this book.

The basic plot: a boy named Todd is one month away from his thirteenth birthday, at which time he will undergo the ritual to make him a man. Todd, however, lives on a planet called the New World, in an isolated village called Prentisstown. Todd is the last “boy” left in town. This village consists only of men; previous to this story, according to the story Todd has been told, a virus called the Noise germ infected the residents, killing all the women and half the men.  The germ also made it so that every man hears every other man’s thoughts. No one can ever escape the Noise, and even the animals have Noise through which they communicate with humans.

The month before his birthday, Todd is made to flee the town for reasons that he doesn’t fully realize and the readers have no concept of. He grabs a rucksack, and he and his dog Manchee cross the swamp and escape Prentisstown, with an army of villagers forming to chase him down and kill him. Outside of the swamp, Todd meets Viola–the first female he has ever encountered, a girl his age. Her parents are dead, and she is also being attacked by the villagers. The two of them flee, and the story ensues.

The first aspect of this story that is immediately recognizable is the language in which the story is written. Many longer words are misspelled intentionally. For example, “preparations” becomes “preparayshuns.” Also, the author, Patrick Ness, employs a lot of run-on sentences and comma splices, bad grammar, and double negatives, and he breaks many other major rules of language. This should annoy me. It doesn’t. The run-on sentences actually add a lot of tension to the story. They move the action along more quickly and greatly reveal the intensity of the narrative. Additionally, the misspelled words and other grammatical issues aptly imply the degradation of society. Education is no longer important, and the men have slipped into a violent, selfish lifestyle. Much like Faulkner, Ness uses the narrative style in an incredible way to paint the chaos of the society he has created.

This book also provides an extensive commentary on society and religion. One of the main antagonists is Aaron, the preacher in Prentisstown. He is an almost mythical creature–he escapes death so many times, and he always manages to be several steps ahead of Todd and Viola. He preaches hellfire and brimstone, and he’s everything a good preacher would never be. He attempts to hide his violent and repressive nature behind a mask of religion.

Additionally, the book is an interesting commentary on the differences in gender. Women were resistant to the germ, and as a result, men can never know what women are thinking. Women, however, still hear everything men think, and as men attempt to hide their Noise, women become more adept at reading the silences in their Noise.

There’s so much more I could talk about: the idea of voice being what actually comes out of your mouth, or what you actually think; the idea of what actually makes a man; tension between hope and despair; and so much more. However, this blog is long enough already. In conclusion, this book is now one of my favorites. It has a cliff-hanger ending, however, as it’s the first book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy. The second one is already out in hardback, and I’m going to buy it this afternoon because I just can’t wait. That means, though, that I’ll probably have to wait a year or so before the conclusion. It’ll be frustrating, but worth it. The book is so good!