Is it better to live a life sheltered by the sometime awfulness of reality – or better to face the truth? Is the worst nightmare the one that’s real, or the imaginary one you create for yourself?
Expect some big questions and prepare yourself for a bumpy ride as two of our biggest stars in the young adult field go head to head with new books out this autumn.
Patrick Ness’s ‘More than This’ takes place in a dark world and opens with a death. But does Seth die? He finds himself living back in his childhood home – a place his family left because of a terrible incident.
But is he a ghost? If so, he’s not your conventional type. Or is it a hell he’s created for himself because of past guilt, because he appears to have returned to the past, but it’s a different past – and he is the only person in it.
Much of the early part of the book follows Seth trying to pull together the pieces as he forages in abandoned supermarkets for the tins that haven’t rusted or exploded.
Seth remembers and dreams what happened after a move to America to leave the past behind and the events that led up to his death.
Patrick Ness expertly weaves three storylines – why Seth moved to American why Seth died and where he is now and why is no-one else around.
You need someone of Patrick Ness’ abilities to make this compelling when it could so easily be confusing and the reader has to work hard to tie all the threads together. But it’s worth the challenge. Patrick Ness is a beautifully emotional writer as well as building tension even before you get to the action scenes and then wrong-footing you just when you think you're getting comfortable.
But the real strength in the book is the questions he wants us to ask ourselves. If it’s so easy to recreate a version of yourself online, to inhabit an internet world that seems welcoming and controllable – are we in danger of not confronting the real-life challenges that the world out there faces? Is it becoming just too easy to ignore the fact that the planet is looming towards environmental and economic disaster and choose to disengage ourselves?
And ultimately – if we had the choice would we choose messy, complicated, painful real life over computer controlled happiness?
Patrick Ness is surely one the ‘must read’ authors of the moment. My favourite children’s book of last year was ‘A Monster Calls’ and his intriguing ‘The Crane Wife’, written for adults, is a romance between a humble man and the woman who arrives in his life and turns it around.
Patrick Ness's humble romantic hero never feels he deserves the beautiful, exotic woman who seems to love him, so he suspects instead she cannot what she seems. Patrick Ness takes the traditional myth stories where beings can be gods or from other worlds sent to live among us and is a lesson in trust and how prying too deeply into people’s backgrounds can be damaging in an updated love story. A beautiful read and two books definitely worth seeking out by any of his readers who want a change of pace from Patrick Ness's teen reads.
Meg Rosoff also turns to creating a mystery story as her latest book. ‘Picture me Gone’ is published just as we are preparing to welcome the film version of her first novel ‘The Way I Live Now’.
'Picture Me Gone’ is similarly about a trip to America, but this time it’s a holiday for twelve-year-old Mila and her dad, Gil, who live a comfortable existence, looking forward to an exciting holiday.
Mila is so good at picking up peoples’ signals, better than the adults around her who sometimes seem to be out of tune, not as clued-in to seeing what is really going on.
Mila likens herself to Agatha Christie’s Poirot, so that sometimes she appears almost psychic. She laughs a little how her mum and dad aren’t half so good at seeing how obvious life is.
Mila think’s she’s going to be useful as she sees herself as the grown-up of the two – practical about packing and planning, organising life. At twelve Mira definitely feels she’s a grown-up.
The road trip around snowy America is a delight for the senses in the company of such an observant narrator, seeing the motels and the grocery stores up close.
But the old friend of her father’s they are visiting has disappeared – just after the birth of his second son.
Where has he gone? And, more importantly, why?
As Mila and Gil travel she realises he has a hidden agenda for the trip and over the course of their holiday she will have returned to her father’s years as a young man and learned how some adults, even ones that start out with promise, are able to spectacularly mess up their lives.
It’s not a pretty expedition – like Patrick Ness’s journey it goes to some dark places about quite ordinary people can get their lives spectacularly wrong and how hiding from bad choices rather than facing up to them can take you to where there is nowhere back from.
It’s also a journey into the adult world and a discussion about how much more there is to the world than adolescent readers might like to think. How much easier to assume that, at twelve, you already have all the answers, see everything in black and white when most people's lives quickly descend into a grey, fuzzy mess with no clear-cut edges.
The best thing about stories is the ability to inhabit someone else’s head for a while, get a new perspective on the world. They both do that brilliantly for their adolescent market - both thought provoking reads that challenge their readers to want to see life for how it really is and to embrace the world for that.
Two perfect novels for people who want their teen novels to be quietly intense.