Title: More Than This
Author: Patrick Ness
No. of Pages: 480
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction
Origins: NetGalley and Candlewick Press
Release Date: 10 September 2013
Bottom Line: Stellar and thought-provoking
“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…”
Thoughts: The one thing about all of Patrick Ness’ novels is that his characters are alive in ways not usually seen in characters in books. More Than This and the main character Seth are perfect examples of this. His loneliness and isolation is the reader’s. His doubts and his endearing habit of considering everything a movie plot is exactly the same suspicions held by the reader. Because of this tendency to create some of the most vibrant emotions on the written page, the reader becomes an active participant in the story. However, Mr. Ness does not stop there. He further enmeshes a reader through the active learning process. As Seth remembers key details, like his name and his death, the reader learns about them as well. A reader and the main character become cognizant at the same time. It is a brilliant method of creating empathy and breathing life into what could easily be a one-dimensional character.
Another theme Mr. Ness likes to use in his novels is the idea of perception versus reality. In More Than This, Seth – and the reader – is left pondering just that. Everything he thought he understood about the world, including the permanence of death, is undone in the moment he wakes up and recognizes his surroundings. What he knows and what he sees often lead to very different answers with the truth buried only so far as one is willing to dig. The questions Mr. Ness raises about perception versus reality are timely, especially as people spend more of their time interacting online versus in person. Mr. Ness provides no easy answers, but as is the case in all of his novels, More Than This is about the process of finding answers more than the answers themselves.
More Than This may be labeled as a young adult novel, but to limit the novel to one particular generation is to miss the point of the story. Seth is indeed young and therefore the right demographic for young adult novels, but it is his experiences and growth that finally allow him to gain the answers he desperately seeks. He must let go of his child-like faith in black and white and embrace the shades of gray that make up most an adult’s life. Young adult readers can and will appreciate Seth’s determination to survive, while adult readers can and will appreciate Seth’s search for more, for his unwillingness to accept his fate, and for his determination not just to survive but to seek answers and thrive. More importantly, his characters never feel young. The angsty, self-obsessed teenagers at the heart of most young adult novels would never be allowed to survive in Mr. Ness’ worlds. As such, his characters may be young in years but wise with experience and need, making them characters that stand up well under scrutiny and with appeal to a wide variety of readers.
At what point does virtual reality become reality? If you perceive something, does it therefore exist? Such philosophical questions are normal for fans familiar with Mr. Ness’ work. He packs a lot of introspective material into a genre typically seen as lighter fare for younger readers. More Than This makes no apology for forcing readers to think deep thoughts and take leaps of faith to upon reaching the ending. In fact, given its ambiguous ending, Mr. Ness embraces contemplative reading of the type that can only help prepare readers for future real-life ambiguities of any kind.
More Than This solidifies Mr. Ness’ place as a stellar writer regardless of genre or category into which his works are placed. His characters are three-dimensional and alive, and his worlds are vibrant and evocative. Sam is an easy character to like, given his loneliness and his confusion that mirrors a reader’s own. Yet, it is in his asking of the tough questions – about life, happiness, and reality – wherein the story hits its stride. No longer a coming-of-age story, it is a philosophical treat buried under suspense and action that allows for greater crossover appeal, making More Than This a story which truly will be a unique experience for every reader and upon every re-read.