Signed Hardcover, 472 pages
2013, Candlewick Press
From the back of the book: A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is this possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? The street seems familiar, but everything is abandoned, overgrown, covered in dust. What’s going on? Is it real? Or has he woken up in his own personal hell? Seth begins to search for answers, hoping desperately that there must be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife…
What I liked:
First I want to talk about how beautiful my copy of the book is and signed, to boot! I picked this baby up at a used bookstore and it happens to have just Ness’s signature in it, it’s not made out to anyone, so I can totally pretend he signed it for me! This is a very solid book, no dust jacket, and it has a wonderful cutout where the door is, to reveal the title is actually printed on yellow paper inside the book. It was nice to hold, if you know what I mean. I also appreciate that the cover is free of promotional quotes, because so often the beauty of a cover is marred by so-and-so telling me this is the best book ever and I have to read it. Even the back (which I failed to take a picture of) has a simple design and is low on review quotes.
I really don’t want to say anything about the plot of this book, because I’d like you to be as surprised as I was if you choose to read it. Ness kept adding little twists and turns at just the right intervals, so every time I thought I had this book figured out, I was wrong. In fact, I still don’t know all of what went on. But I will talk about the main character, Seth, who is a very well-written teenager. He’s a mix of brave, stupid, self-centered and selfless and made a very convincing protagonist. Personally, I have a hard time reading about teens who are at one end of a character spectrum: the ultra-self-centered brats or the special snowflakes who can do no wrong. It was nice to feel that Seth reacted to events and his environments in a way that felt real.
The plot moves along at a good pace too. I read the majority of this book in one day, despite being on vacation. One of the surprises for me was that this book turned out to be a bit of a sci-fi/dystopia, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I’ve mentioned
probably a million times that I’m bad at figuring out what genre a book is, but I guess I expected this to be more of a literary YA novel. More than that I won’t say. I also felt his writing was very quotable. Here’s my favorite:
“People see stories everywhere. 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. We have to lie to ourselves to live. Otherwise, we’d go crazy.”
What I didn’t like:
The ending. I was left feeling confused – which may have been Ness’s point, because as humans we can’t figure out every aspect of life and sometimes things just don’t make sense. But I hate to finish a book and go “huh?” even if ending the book the way it did made sense. It just made me feel like maybe I missed something and that I didn’t read deeply enough, which is really something I never do. I don’t look for themes and metaphors and double meanings when I read – and that’s my own fault. I prefer to just take the words at face value and move along. So you may very well have a different feeling at the end if you decide to read this book (which you should.)
I would recommend this book to fans of YA novels – I know I mentioned sci-fi earlier, but even if you’re not a fan of that genre, give this book a chance, because it’s not typically what you’d expect of a sci-fi novel and it’s more character driven than anything. This is my second Ness read and I’m hoping to pick up his Chaos Walking trilogy at some point.
Here are a few more pictures, because this book is lovely: