“What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.”
So, basic premise: it’s a world where all the crazy urban fantasy stories we tell actually happen, and this is the perspective of the “normal” people, the non-chosen ones, the non-special people. It’s not like they actually do anything to influence the plot or the outcome – at least not until the end, where one of them contributes something one time – this is just what they’re doing while the special kids, the usual protagonists of the story, called “indie kids,” deal with the near-ending of the world stuff.
It sucks. Terribly.
I know, for certain, it’s not because this is a YA novel. I’ve read plenty of those, and enjoyed them, so it’s neither the genre nor the target audience throwing me off. This book is terrible all on its own.
For one thing, pretty much nothing happens. We have a lot that nearly happens, but very little that actually happens. This is, after all, about the people on the outskirts of the urban fantasy stories, so of course they’re perfectly safe throughout the story, right? Actually, no, that’s not how it works. For making such fun of the tropes, Ness doesn’t seem to have grasped them very well here.
Which goes into point number two: the ridicule. I have no objection to making fun of the tropes or turning them on their heads and whatnot, but doing it right means doing so tastefully, with a certain humor that balances self-deprecation with witty commentary, and often in a way that influences the plot into something unexpected and emotional. It’s the art of comedy, telling stories that point out the joyful paradoxes of life, and making people feel happy about it. But this novel’s take on it doesn’t feel “happy.” It feels… snide. Like really, really snide. It’s not humor. It’s ridicule, mockery. It got very irritating very quickly.
I don’t know if that was intentional. I don’t believe it was. But that’s what I got from it: snide.
Perhaps the most aggravating thing, though, was how the book characterized the stereotypical protagonists as “indie kids.” I mean… what?! Just what does that mean? What, exactly, has gone so wrong with a society that it has a label specifically for the “special” kids? How are they even so special? Considering what they go through, often including death, how does anyone become an indie kid? How do they have such a perfect social system that these kids are so easily identified? And for all that the protagonists complain about the indie kids doing stuff on their own while other people are getting hurt, I somehow didn’t see the “normal” kids stepping up to help the indie kids when they were dying. Do you see what I’m saying here? How is there such a clear segregation between “normal” and “indie?”
Heck, they even apparently have names that sound “indie,” as if none of our society’s protagonists or their friends have never had names like Mikey, Jared, Mel, Meredith, or Henna. You see how ridiculous this is getting?
The list goes on. The normal kids actually seem to have some pretty “indie” things about them, like one of them being one-quarter divinity (his grandmother was a goddess of cats), one has overzealous missionary parents who want to go to an African country in the middle of a civil war, two, siblings, have neuroses based on the trauma of experiencing the spotlight when their mother ran for political office, etc.
The main character, Mikey, keeps spouting off about how problems and troubles are not so isolated, yet he closes himself off to them, and tries to keep his problems locked up exactly the same as everyone else. The synopsis says he discoveries the extraordinary in himself, but I didn’t see that happen. I just saw a lot of low-level drama that didn’t really have any effect of anything.
There’s a number of other complaints, but most of them get into the smaller things, the nitpicking of the novel and how it’s written. It all comes down to a steady drain on my patience. Why was I even bothering to read this?
I was about two-thirds of the way through when I just gave up and started speed-reading. I wasn’t missing much.
I will say, to Ness’s credit, there were, even in this boring, ridicule-ridden exercise in prolonged anticlimacticism, some worthy things. The characters had some emotional honesty to them, usually, and they said some pretty good things on occasion. That kindness is the most important thing of all. That young people are mistaken in believing old people don’t understand what they’re going through, while old people are mistaken in believing that what young people are going through doesn’t matter “because they’ll grow out of it.” That family looks after family, even and perhaps most especially when that family is screwed up somehow.
Which is probably why I even had the resolve to finish this novel in the first place, chronic irritations notwithstanding. The thing is, it was about as fun and entertaining as a death march, albeit one down a straight road, wide and paved, in perfectly flat terrain.
Rating: 4 stars out of 10.
So! Guess how excited I am to see anything else written by Patrick Ness? Like the widely praised and critically acclaimed A Monster Calls?
Answer: not a bit!