The progression of this story was pretty unexpected, and not entirely in a good way, to be honest. This YA novel begins in a slow-burning fashion, focusing largely on the main character, Seth, and his memories: very character-driven. Yet about a third of the way in, there is quite a twist, that changes the whole tone of the novel, and ultimately leaves more questions and confusion at the end of everything. There is the sense that Patrick Ness is trying to create an ambiguous ending for the reader to fill in the gaps with whatever explanation and reality they desire, but I don’t feel like it was all that successful in the end. Sometimes uncertainty works, but here I feel like there were just too many questions and things that couldn’t be fully explained, and that leaving things ambiguous just felt like a bit of a cop out in some ways? That sounds harsh, but I was pretty disappointed by the ending, after some really solid emotional moments were created throughout the book that drew me in initially. It was just a really strange book at the end of the day, that almost felt like two completely different novels pasted together.
Now, I don’t want to give too much away about the book, given that the twist is quite surprising and makes you want to know more and keep reading, despite the fact that it maybe doesn’t make complete sense at the end of all things. But I’ll lay down a bit of a synopsis here, though I do warn about some mild spoilers ahead:
What we see first is a young boy named Seth, moments before he dies by drowning. Yet despite the fact that he has died, he soon awakes in a strange, deserted world, set up exactly like the town he lived in a child before his family experienced a traumatic event. With no people and little to explain what has happened, Seth just starts trying to survive, yet every time he sleeps, his head is filled with memories that begin to explain how and why he died, as well as some other events of Seth’s life that defined his relationship with his family. But then, everything switches gears when some new characters are introduced. And by switches gears, I mean everything suddenly feels like the “Matrix”, which I did not see coming whatsoever. But the way this online/offline consciousness thing that develops just leaves a lot of holes and things unexplained as to what exactly happened and how it all works. Also what’s going to happen next. Will Seth and his new friends save everyone? Leave everyone? Can things be sustained for longer periods of time in the new world? I just don’t know. I also had a bit of an issue with how Seth’s story in his memories played out in terms of his sexuality (I’m just tired of sad stories like that, I don’t want to hear about nothing but how my sexuality is going to make me suffer in my life, bye!), but that might just be a bit of a personal thing.
In any case, it was quite a good concept that just needed a bit of finessing. But you know… it wasn’t terrible. I just wasn’t feeling it at the end of the day (hhmmm, which is also what I said about a guy I just met recently. Interesting). Maybe I’ll give another one of Patrick Ness’ works a shot at another time. But maybe not. Only time will tell.