By Patrick Ness
This book is like if we got the stories of some of Buffy’s classmates at Sunnydale High – there are terrible, supernatural things happening, but there’s nothing they can do about it, so it is mostly in the background of their everyday lives. I don’t normally like stories about non-fantasy teenagers (even when I was a teenager I couldn’t really relate), but this novel is just so well written!
Each chapter opens with a short paragraph summarizing the large-scale supernatural events being battled by the various chosen ones. The rest of the book is narrated by a high school senior stressed out over prom, graduating, leaving for college, and battling varying levels of OCD. He and his friends very occasionally witness the periphery of the larger battles, but somehow the author is able to use this to emphasize how equally important the everyday struggles are.
So, I was initially attracted to the book by the interesting and unusual premise, but two specific attributes of the novel really made it stand out for me. Ness writes with a really nice, light touch on diversity — it becomes apparent that characters are different ethnicities only way after their more important individual character traits are established. Ness keeps it true to life, as well, with their cultural backgrounds being an important part of who they are, but certainly not their primary defining characteristic.
Secondly, Ness does a truly spectacular job of addressing dealing with various mental illnesses. Our main character has occasional bouts of pretty severe OCD, while his sister is recovering from anorexia. Again, Ness shows how these are not insignificant in the characters’ lives, but they are also just one aspect of the many, many traits that make people so individual. This book would have done me a world of good in high school, quite frankly.
This really was a spectacular book with awesome characters. I really liked how it shows that everyone is a periphery character to someone else’s story, but they are also the main characters to their own stories. Each of the main characters have their own things going on, that may or may not be related to each other. Even as the reader, we only get hints of things happening outside of the scenes we get to read.
I just read this and was about to write a review of it, myself! I was going to say that it was like a book version of the Buffy epsiode “The Zeppo,” that followed Xander around while the rest of the gang fought a mysterious evil off screen. I really liked it, too, and I thought it was a clever way to tell a high school story without being toooo high school-y, and a fantasy story without being toooo all about magic and fantasy. it reminded me a lot of The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black.
A note: Patrick Ness is also the author of The Knife of Never Letting Go, a book which contains the SINGLE MOST UPSETTING THING I HAVE EVER READ IN A FICTIONAL STORY. So, while I recommend this, I’m putting a strong warning on some of his other stuff.
Oh, man, I’m so glad I didn’t realize that before because I would never have picked this book up, and now I know that Patrick Ness can be trusted in some very select cases. I think The Knife of Never Letting Go permanently broke me a little bit, like made my very low tolerance for animal harm even lower, almost nonexistent at this point.
I may have to check out The Darkest Part of the Forest, then, too. I didn’t like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown as much as you and Rebecca did, so I skipped this one, but perhaps I would like it better.