I’ve always been a fan of Patrick Ness’s books, but this one didn’t really work for me. I wanted more from the characters and more from the world building–but I respect the story that he was trying to tell (and succeeded at telling).
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.
Patrick Ness is an autobuy author of mine, so I didn’t really look at the description before I decided I needed this book in my life. Regardless, when I did get around to reading the synopsis, I loved the idea. It’s a premise that I’ve always toyed with but never thought someone would be crazy enough to write an entire book about.
I loved the broad strokes of TROUJLH (holy crap that’s a long abbreviation). The indie kids (the Chosen Ones) were cliquish and mysterious, exactly the way I imagine kids who were destined to save the world would be. I loved the idea that every generation has seen something absolutely crazily paranormal happen that the indie kids stopped, even if the adults won’t admit that anything supernatural happened. I empathized with Mikey and his friend’s wish that the indie kids would take a break and keep the school intact until they had graduated.
My problem with this book comes with the specifics. Were the indie kids actually gifted, or were they just a clique of kids with weird names who decided to be vigilantes? I wanted it to be the former, but it seemed like the truth was the latter, and that was disappointing. (If you have read the book, please comment–did you feel the same way?) The mysterious things that happen to Mikey and his friends were interesting and creepy, but never explained fully enough for me to feel like the book was compete.
As a protagonist, Mikey was unique and stereotypical at the same time. His struggle with OCD was palpable and heart-wrenching–I honestly felt like I was trapped in his loops with him, and it was horrifying. The various traumas that the had endured in his life were realistic and important; I appreciate that Ness used this book to discuss so many mental health issues that teens face today. However, his role in the story–the damaged guy who feels like he is less than his group of friends–felt cliche.
I liked the cast of supporting characters. His friends each had their own personalities and quirks–something I loved. Even so, I felt like the characters were still filling the same molds that you would expect them to fill: gay best friend, troubled sister, unattainable love interest, guy he’s jealous of. The main plot of the book was incredibly contemporary; unfortunately, this ended up following well-worn genre paths. Yes, I empathized with each character’s struggles, and I was emotionally invested in each of their storylines–but I was never surprised.
(Honestly, this book had so many similarities to The Perks of Being a Wallflower that I imagine the MCs as the same person. Anyone else feeling this?)
This book succeeds at what it sets out to do: write a story about the non-Chosen Ones, and point out some flaws in the current YA mold. The bits of Chosen One stories in the beginning of each chapter cracked me up; they were some of my favorite moments in the book, and I definitely appreciated the satire-ization of modern YA culture. Mikey and his friends live in the shadow of dramatic plots, the unfortunate bystanders that most authors reduce to body counts at the end of battles.
But the problem is, I want to read about the Chosen One. Not necessarily the person saving the world from zombie deer and blue lights, but at least a character that is willing to take charge of their lives and do things. I want to read stories where discoveries are made, where risks are taken, where there is obvious growth–and technically, TROUJLH has all of these things. The problem is, all of those boxes are checked by the contemporary plot line, but that plot is overshadowed (purposefully) by the fantasy plot line.
I wanted discoveries and risks and growth and closure regarding whoever was trying to end the world–mainly because it was presented to me as a major focus of the book. If there were no paranormal aspects of the book, I probably wouldn’t have felt as let down by TROUJLH as I did. But they were there, tantalizingly mysterious and dangerous and needing to be solved.
There were even times when it seemed like Mikey would step into the role of savior/investigator, but he was always held back, and I was disappointed. That’s the Catch 22 of this book’s premise: I wanted him to see the problems in the world and try to figure out solutions, but if Mikey had done that, he would have been acting as an indie kid, and that would have undermined the entire purpose of the book.
Can you tell that this book was frustrating for me?
I would recommend this book for fans of realistic contemporary with powerful and well-crafted social commentary. Fantasy fans should beware that this book contains fantasy elements but purposefully avoids being a member of the genre. All in all, TROUJLH is worth reading, but I expected more from Patrick Ness.