My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What was everyone else doing while Harry Potter saved the world? While Katniss was kicking ass and taking names?
So much YA fiction now is about an alternate universe; a dystopian world; a magical realm. As if the trials and tribulations of teens aren't enough to fill a book, we have to add saving the world and aliens and magic and evil and superpowers to make it interesting and readable and best-seller-y.
This book takes place in a dystopian world. One that has been wracked by zombies and soul-eating ghosts and vampires. And now a new threat; the Immortals. But the book doesn't talk about the kids who are fighting the Immortals. It imagines what life is like for the bystanders.
Each chapter opens with a short synopsis on what the "indie kids," the chosen ones, are doing. Chapter by chapter, we follow the magical story but only in summary. Only in parody.
"Chapter the tenth, in which indie kids Joffrey and Earth disappear from their homes, their bodies found miles away; Satchel goes into hiding at an abandoned drive-in with fellow indie kids Finn, Dylan, Finn, Finn, Lincoln, Archie, Wisconsin, Finn, Aquamarine, and Finn; seeing a blue light in the night, Satchel meets the boy from the amulet, the handsomest one she's ever seen; he tells her this isn't a safe place for her or the others and that they should run; then he tells her she's beautiful in her own special way and that's when she knows she can trust him; the indie kids go back to their homes."
Then the chapter continues on with the everyday lives, worries, and loves of the not chosen.
I have never read Patrick Ness before, so I had no preconceived expectations in diving into this book (which my kid read in a record 2 hours)
And I liked it. A heck of a lot. Maybe because I'm so tired of wading through all the YA fiction that buys into the idea that you aren't special unless you are tragic. Or magic. Or tragic and magic.
**Warning: A "Back in MY Day...!" old-person rant to follow**
When I was a kid I read Narnia and Tolkien. But I also read Blume and Hinton. And, usually, I liked Blume and Hinton better. One of my most favorite books as a pre-teen was some book about a girl who got a part-time job in a bakery. I don't even remember what it was called. Or who wrote it. But I read and re-read and re-read. Because that girl, that character, gave me a template for what I wanted to try to turn my teenage life into. I'd never go save the world. But maybe I could find a cool part-time job, two supportive adults-who-are-not-my-parents who believe in me and, bonus!, a cute, shy, brilliant boyfriend with great hair.
I don't think enough of those types of books exist today. And reading the reviews of THIS book, I understand why; so many people thought this book was sooooo boring. "Who wants to read about normal people?" the reviews say.
We've trained ourselves not to be interested in ourselves. We are not special unless we pretend to be more than we are on social media. Unless we're keeping some deep, dark, traumatic secret. Unless we are secretly a god or a superhero or a spy. The criteria for what makes someone special has increased; the bar is set too high.
Ness lowers the bar a bit (though he cannot take it all the way back down; his cast of characters includes a recovering anorexic, a kid with OCD, and the god of cats, though, to be fair, the god of cats is only a quarter god and he wants nothing more than to be normal, going as far as to using his boring, milquetoast middle name instead of his unique and powerful first name) and gives us a book about people. "Normal" people. Bystanders in the midst of typical YA-fare strife and adventure, but carrying on with their trivial lives, trying their best not to be touched by the burden of saving the world.
And I thought the concept was brilliant. I enjoyed the characters. I enjoyed the writing, too. Things like, "It's not the answer to everything but it's the one thing that's going to make the questions bearable." Or a girl who has that "combination of total self-belief and utter self-doubt that is more common than people think." Or "I wonder if realizing you're not sure about stuff is what makes you a grown-up?"
Or this; "Pity is an insult. Kindness is a miracle."
"Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing the things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes no sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway."
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