This is now my third Ness novel of this Cannonball. After being emotionally destroyed by A Monster Calls and then absolutely enchanted by The Crane Wife I now find myself reading his latest YA novel. I did say in my review of The Crane Wife that I wanted to read everything Ness ever writes, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise to you all. His Chaos Walking trilogy is planned for next year’s Cannonball. Since 2014 is going to be my Year of Big Books, I figure I need to intersperse them with less gargantuan tomes if I am going to hit 52. But anyway, I digress.
Talk about hooking you in from the get-go. “Here is the boy, drowning” is how Ness opens this novel and if that doesn’t make you want to read it in one sitting, then nothing will. More Than This is the story of Seth Wearing, a sixteen year old boy whose life is so terrible he sees no other option than to end it. Instead of ending, he comes to in his childhood home in the UK, the home his family left behind for a new life in the USA, after a Very Bad Event. However, it’s a weird and unpopulated dystopian version of his remembered home and so maybe he did die and this is his afterlife. Seth can’t be sure but he needs to find out. Not least because every time he falls asleep, he dreams of the events that led to him walking into the ocean.
In his series of re-reading Stephen King novels, James Smythe notes that when he was growing up, YA didn’t really exist as a genre. And Ness makes me wish that it did. It would have been just phenomenal to have a Patrick Ness in my life when I was sixteen. Not just because he’s a gay and I’m a gay (everywhere a gay gay), but because he gets it. Ness gets teenagers and adolescence in such a perfect way and leaves you in no doubt that however rubbish it is for you as a teenager, it gets better and he’s living proof. Yes, Seth is gay (it irks me that in 2013, this is still considered “daring”) but anyone who was once a teenager can relate to parents thwarting their romantic affairs and school being a painful trial, so it in no way limits the scope and appeal of the book.
In addition to really understanding teenagers, Ness is top notch at characters and dialogue. Seth meets up with two other lost souls, Regine and Tomasz, both of whom are an absolute delight to read. Their quest to find out exactly what is going on with their (after)lives though, that does go on maybe a fraction longer than it could and Ness’s vision does owe more than a small debt to The Matrix, but those are (believe it or not) minor quibbles. The book itself does not outstay its welcome, and in the closing pages I found myself yearning for more, but Ness abides by the age old showbiz rule when it comes to making your audience want more. He doesn’t give it to us. He doesn’t need to though. The ending is gorgeous and perfect, I just didn’t want to leave this book or its characters behind.