September 23, 2013

BOOKS: More Than This, Patrick Ness (2013)

In a brief prologue, we are with a 16-year-old boy who has swum too far out into the ocean. It's cold, he's losing strength, and he's terrified. He knows he's about to die, and it comes almost as mercy when instead of the long, slow agony of drowning, he is dashed against the rocks and killed instantly.

And then, at the beginning of Chapter 1, he wakes up.

Seth finds himself in the English village of his childhood, but it's deserted, with overgrown weeds everywhere and a thick layer of dust covering everything. The local supermarket has plenty of canned food that hasn't gone bad, so he's in no danger of starvation. But how can he possibly be here at all, apparently still alive? Where is everyone? And why is there a shiny black coffin in the middle of his bedroom?

The terror and mystery of this complete isolation may not be the worst thing in store for Seth, though, because when he falls asleep, he dreams. His dreams are intensely realistic, and in all of them, he's forced to relive the most painful moments in his life.

Ness tells a terrifically twisty story about reality and fantasy, the importance of friendship, the pain of loneliness (and of life in general), and the desperate measures we will take to escape that pain, or to at least make it more bearable. The characters (no, Seth doesn't remain alone for the entire book) are lively and memorable; I particularly liked Tomasz, an 11-year-old Polish boy who grumbles in grandly comic style about how unappreciated his acts of bravery are.

More Than This is a marvelous book. It's creative, thought-provoking, and very hard to put down.

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