Patrick Ness has written the perfect response to every teen paranormal trilogy out there. The elevator pitch of this book is that it is about the regular kids living in the town where all the paranormal YA prophecy chosen one shit goes down. It’s about not being special and being awesome anyway. I wish I’d had this book in high school. I’m really glad I have this book now.
Going a tad deeper and less in to the fan girl this book is also about overcoming mental illness and the stigma that goes with it. It’s about changing lives and relationships and dealing with the anxiety of the existentially unpredictable experience that is life. The fact that we probably aren’t all going to be news-making famous people but we can still have extraordinary lives. I like how this book deals with mental illnesses like anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and body dismorphia. The main character has already gotten his OCD under control once when the book opens. His friends and slightly dysfunctional family are all supportive but he’s falling back into his old loops once again. His disorder isn’t treated like something to be ashamed of or to hide even when he feels it is. We finally get to see a character who is able to get his shit together not because of an easy magical out (which is offered) or because of some simple think happy thoughts cure. He goes to therapy, he takes his meds, he has to learn to ask for help. He has to learn he matters, not for accomplishments, or grade or girlfriends he matters because everyone matters. This is the kind of thing everyone should be taught. Seeing a character realize he is strong enough to get his condition under control is amazing.
I’m generally not a person that laughs when they’re reading. I’ll think things are funny and I’m amused but for some reason it’s hard for me to actually laugh. This book found a way to cause actual giggles. I know some people have issues with overly witty snarky characters but I don’t, maybe I just hang out with really witty people. I enjoyed that the friend circle in this book felt like a family. Even when they were fighting and at their worst you still knew they cared for each other in deep meaningful ways which isn’t something we get to see often. The guys in this book hug and there’s no weirdness about it. Men are able to be friends with women and there’s never a sexual element. There were several portrayals of romantic relationships but those were all distinct from the friendships.
This happy little friend family also also has to deal with being seniors and their looming separation. As someone who still has a really tight group of pals from high school it was strange but nice to relive that angst. I had been planning to leave my hometown since I could crawl but when my best friend left for boot camp it was a loss I couldn’t communicate to others, made all the more awkward by the fact that my bestie is a dude. I felt I couldn’t tell people the depth of my missing him without them thinking we were involved. He was someone that I had seen almost every day since we were 12. The one that showed up at my house with ice cream when I broke up with my long term boyfriend, even though he’d hated the guy and now I couldn’t even get an email from him for weeks. To me it was devastating and not a relationship I see in YA books. I feel like often in YA books the friendships are based on romance, requited or not, or shared awkwardness but they lack emotional depth. They don’t have the family feel that Ness gives his characters and that I feel for my friends. These characters know each other better than they know themselves and they are all rooting for one another. It warms your heart to read it.
It’s common for YA books to have really dysfunctional families because generally it’s hard to write believable angsty characters getting into bad situations if they have a loving safety net at home. The parents in this book while far from perfect but show they love their kids when it counts. They fail but they try, it’s incredibly human. Real families are messy and that’s what Ness gives us.
If you need a feel good book that will say everything you needed to hear about managing anxiety go buy this now. Better yet buy it for a teen you know.