Published on September 10th 2013
Genres: Action & Adventure, Coming of Age, Death, Dystopian / Post-Apocalyptic, Fiction, Friendship, Mystery, Suspense, Young Adult
A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.
Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.
How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?
As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?
From multi-award-winning Patrick Ness comes one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time.
Here we go, my first crack at the Sporadic Summer Reading Challenge. More Than This was suggested to me by Dre.
Minor spoilers, maybe.
Patrick Ness wrote one of the best YA dystopian series I have ever read (Chaos Walking), and so I was incredibly eager and excited to read this book. I expected More Than This to be a paranormal contemporary about the world between life and death, and it sort of was, but it was also so much more than that. There were plenty of surprises that I wasn’t expecting hidden in the story. I very much enjoyed the book, despite my problem with a few of the decisions the author made.
The book starts with a bang as we witness the drowning of a boy named Seth. He wakes up in England at his childhood home, where the world is not as it should be. People are nowhere to be seen, grass is overgrown, and it seems like the entire planet has just been abandoned. Seth tries to figure out what exactly is going on- why is the world in the condition that it is? Why was he sent here? How is he alive? It’s a fascinating premise.
The story opens very slowly- there is one character in the entire story, as we follow Seth on his journey to uncover all of the mysteries he encounters. However, the plot picks up eventually, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of action and suspense in the story. I got very invested in the book, and finished the entire second half in one sitting.
The characters were vivid and had very strong personalities. Ness always does a great job of fleshing out his characters to make them intriguing and original. Seth was a great lead-curious, brave, and heroic. The fact that he knew just as little as we knew about his precarious situation made him very easy to relate to as well.
Regine and Tomasz, who we meet later on in the book, are terrific characters as well. I want to talk specifically about Tomasz, a 12 year old Polish boy who absolutely stole my heart. Tomasz is so young and full of heart, yet also so terribly damaged. His whole life has been unfair to him- he’s too innocent and too good of a person to suffer through all that’s happened to him. Yet he takes adversity in stride- he approaches challenges and danger with bravery, hope, and determination. He inspired me throughout the book, and also cheered me up with his comic relief (his use of English is rather hilarious), which was much needed in an otherwise dark, serious book.
Ness has a strong penchant for writing in a very engrossing manner. He has a knack for writing action scenes and for building up extraordinary amounts of suspense. Even when there isn’t much going on, his ability to describe a certain scene without boring the hell out of his readers is astounding. His writing in More Than This was very unique- unlike any writing style I’ve seen before. It was choppy and scattered, with many sentence breaks and short fragmented phrases. It took a while to get used to, but it was so effective- the choppiness of the prose represented Seth’s jumbled thinking process very well.
I suppose we could call this book a paranormal/contemporary/dystopian thriller. The world is so fascinating and unique, and crosses many genres. However, I had one major problem with this book. There were so many questions to answer about the world, and when we got the smallest answer to one of those questions, we also were stuck with 10 NEW questions to consider.Although I was incredibly confused at times and annoyed that I didn’t know what the hell was going on, I kept going, because I really wanted to find out the answers to all my questions. I wanted to know how this cool world that the author created came to be in the first place.
I got essentially none of these answers. At the end of the book, I was just as confused as I was at the beginning. The author also chose to leave the ending wide-open. He literally didn’t finish the story. I know lots of people who like open-ended conclusions, but personally, I hate them. I should explain, however, that the lack of explanation is part of the point- it’s done intentionally.
In More Than This, nobody knows what the real world is. The storyline focuses on trying to answer the questions the characters have about reality. Is the Earth on which Seth has found himself the real world? Or is it just a dream- a story he’s made up? If this world is not reality, then what is? But Ness eventually explains that these questions are not worth answering.
“Real life is only ever just real life. Messy. What it means depends on how you look at it. The only thing you’ve got to do is find a way to live there.”
This quote is the backbone of the entire novel. By trying to put a label on the world that we inhabit, by trying to understand its mysteries, we forget how to live. The characters ask themselves, “is there more than this?” But the answer is simple. As one of the characters puts it,
“You said we all want there to be more than this! Well, there’s always more than this. There’s always something you don’t know.”
The thing is, there is always more to us, to our lives, than there appears. But the characters in the book can’t see what they have already- they can’t see that there already is more to their lives than they think, so they chase the question of the existence of reality. Here’s the problem with that: who cares about reality? As Regine puts it,
“But wherever I am, whatever this world is, I’ve just got to be sure I’m me and that’s what’s real.
It doesn’t matter where you are- whether you’re in a real world or an imagined one. Being yourself, knowing you exist in that moment, experiencing emotions, that is what makes life worth living. And there is the point of the book, and why so many questions about reality are deliberately left unanswered.
More Than This entertains, but also makes you think. As you can see, Ness opens this book up to endless thematic interpretation. There’s so much to discuss that I didn’t even mention the importance of the LGBT storyline, or the harrowing allusions to rape and abuse, for the sake of length. Patrick Ness has once again created a very thoughtful YA novel, and despite my annoyance at the lack of an actual ending, I consider this book well worth reading.
Link to Dre’s review of the same book.