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Pride Month: More Than This by Patrick Ness

June is Pride Month, when people around the world commemorate the Stonewall Riots (which sparked the fight for LGBT+ civil rights in the USA) and remember the LGBT+ people who lost their lives to AIDS and hate crime. It’s also a time to recognise the achievements of the LGBT+ community, and to talk about what must be done to make sure LGBT+ people are safe, respected, and afforded the same opportunities as heterosexual and cisgender people. You can learn about LGBT+ rights worldwide from ILGA; if you’re interested in what the local LGBT+ community can offer you, check out Norwich Pride for a list of support groups, charities, pubs, clubs and events.

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In honour of Pride Month, we checked out More Than This by gay author and screenwriter Patrick Ness. More Than This (EXPRESS FICTION 823.91 NES) was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2013, a prize that Ness had already won twice (Monsters of Men won the prize in 2011; A Monster Calls won in 2012).

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Seth Wearing wakes up on a hot day in Hell. He had wandered into the freezing Atlantic Ocean hoping to end his life, and surfaced outside his childhood home, on a different continent, surrounded by craters, wrecks and wildfires. He can remember his collarbone snapping and his head slamming into a rock. He shouldn’t be alive, so he must be dead.

For the first few days Seth is alone. He’s exhausted and starving, but once he’s found food, water and shelter, he begins to pay attention to the bizarre landscape and the frightening state he’s found himself in: naked, his head shaved, his body covered in cuts and bruises, with a red light blinking erratically behind his ear. There’s a coffin in his old bedroom lined with wires and tubes. There are no other people and no other coffins. When he sleeps, his dreams are disturbingly vivid. He relearns the truth about who he was, and who his family were.

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When Seth was eight, his younger brother Owen was injured in an accident that Seth couldn’t have predicted or prevented. His mother still blames him, devoting herself to Owen; his father zones out on strong anti-depressants. The latest test results show that without expensive treatment, Owen will go completely blind. Seth’s college fund is emptied to pay for it- if he wants an education, Seth will have to go to the local community college. He’s trapped, after pinning all his hopes on an escape. Seth has a boyfriend, Gudmund, and together they had planned to go to college out of state. While they’re stuck in their hometown, their relationship has to stay secret. Their mutual friend Monica has a massive crush on Gudmund, even though she’s dating their jock friend H. Gudmund’s parents are Republican to the core, the kind of parents who would send their son to ‘pray the gay away’ camp rather than permit him to live with Seth. And they’re still in high school- neither of them want to draw attention to themselves. That’s why Seth is wary when Gudmund takes a selfie with him curled up in his bed. And when it’s leaked, and Gudmund’s parents spirit him away to a private finishing school, Seth has nobody left. So he cleans his room and heads out into the water- only to relive his final days with Gudmund every time he falls asleep.

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Refusing to resign himself to life in Hell, Seth explores his old high street, looting camping equipment and freeze-dried meals from outdoor supply stores. He’s on a refuelling mission when he hears a car engine nearby and, desperate for human company, runs to check it out. The silent, helmet-clad Driver chases him down, wielding the kind of weapons you’d see in a sci-fi movie. In the last instant, Seth is saved by a fat Black girl and a tiny, angry Polish boy who reminds Seth of his brother. They are all missing memories, but all of them know that they should have been killed by a blow to the back of the head- the same spot where they all have a blinking red implant. Initially their theories- which we won’t spoil here!- are met with incredulity. But Seth and his new companions Tomasz and Regine refuse to believe there’s nothing ‘more than this’.  They decide to go back to Seth’s garden- where the worst day of his childhood began- and break through the fence to the max-security prison a few feet beyond. The terrifying Driver is hiding something there, and a break-in is their best hope of finding answers.

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More Than This does not provide answers to many of the questions raised by Seth and his friends- if you like chronological stories with a satisfying end, it might not be for you! If you like books that make you think, and stay with you long after you’ve read the final page, then we highly recommend More Than This. It’s safe to say that this is a sci-fi novel, but Ness masterfully expands on many common tropes to include themes like first loves, LGBT+ prejudice, family, grief, illness and poverty; relationship abuse, human trafficking, guilt, isolation, murder, and importantly, suicide. Ness’ characters have frank discussions about their ‘past lives’, none of which had happy endings. But while the book confronts difficult topics that may be uncomfortable to read about, Ness’ tone is warm and understanding. In one poignant scene Seth explains why he couldn’t tell the other ‘survivors’ that he caused his own death, fearing they will think that his reasons were trivial, and that he should have fought harder or found some other way to carry on. His friends have experienced horrible things, but Seth has too. Ness never makes Seth out to be weak, or stupid. He acknowledges the pain that Seth feels- different to Tomasz and Regine, but no less real.

If you’re dealing with any of the issues raised in More Than This or any of the films and novels featured on our blog, you can find a list of recommended self-help books in our display area. The Information Store is next to the Wellbeing Zone, where staff can help you to book counselling sessions, direct you towards local charities or just offer you a quiet space to find some calm.

Other books by Patrick Ness

Death, grief and illness feature heavily in Ness’ books, alongside LGBT themes. A selection of his best work is available to borrow from our EXPRESS FICTION section:

A Monster Calls (EXPRESS FICTION 823.91 NES) is based on an idea by the late children’s author Siobhan O’Dowd, who died of cancer before she could complete the story herself. Connor is a carer for his mother, who is in the final stages of aggressive cancer. His formidable grandmother tries to help Connor back into a ‘normal’ life, but he refuses to be separated from his mum. At night the tree outside Connor’s bedroom transforms into the stoic, intelligent Monster, who tells stories to help Connor deal with his anger, guilt and grief. The book is illustrated by Jim Kay, who uses violent splashes of black and grey ink to draw the ominous and unfamiliar. Ness adapted the book for the screen himself- watch this interview with Ness, the film’s director JA Bayona and actors Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall and Sigourney Weaver.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go (EXPRESS FICTION 823.91 NES) is the first book in Ness’ award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, which is currently in pre-production (Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley is set to star). Todd Hewitt is the youngest person living in the all-male settlement of Prentisstown- in a few days, he will turn thirteen and be called upon to prove himself a man. All the men in Prentisstown are infected with Noise- the ability to hear each other’s thoughts- which was spread throughout the colony by the planet’s native inhabitants, the Spackle. Todd has been lead to believe that this disease killed all the female colonists, but when he and his dog Manchee come across a downed spaceship, its female pilot, Viola, survives. Viola is faced with a tough choice- can she risk contacting the larger spacecraft filled with hopeful colonists, and warn them that this planet might infect and kill them? Or could a new group of humans learn to interact more peacefully with the Spackle, and accept the Noise- like they do- as a means to communicate?

Release is Ness’ latest novel. It takes place during one day in the life of Adam, an American teenager forced to hide his sexuality from his fundamentalist family. The book is heavily inspired by Modernist literature, particularly Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway (BOOK ZONE 823.91 WOO). As Adam confronts his family, his ex and his abusive boss, and becomes closer to his best friend and his new partner, he catches the attention of an ancient river goddess, who has possessed the body of a murdered teen addict. Adam is oblivious to the goddess’ attempts to reshape his quiet town and wreak vengeance on the people who failed her human host- in true Ness style, the fantastical parts of the story are used to add more emotional weight to the relatable human drama his subjects go through. You can borrow Release from Norfolk Libraries; be aware that it contains explicit sex.

Have we missed your favourite book by Patrick Ness? Do you know an LGBT+ author we should feature on Between the Lines? Contact us via Facebook or Twitter.

References

Jaypeg (2007) Rainbow Book Available at: https://flic.kr/p/xnFcg (Accessed: 19 June 2017)

The JR James Archive (2013) Abandoned Housing, Unknown Location Available at: https://flic.kr/p/fbxRqS (Accessed: 19 June 2017)

Mesjak, J (2013) Also? This – the new Patrick Ness. Available at: https://flic.kr/p/eASn4e (Accessed: 19 June 2017)

Noxi. (2014) Frozen lake Available at: https://flic.kr/p/nRiSYG (Accessed: 19 June 2017)

prettybooks (2011) A Monster Calls Available at: https://flic.kr/p/9YMBLZ (Accessed: 19 June 2017)

Stowe, R (2013) Barbed Wire in Winter Available at: https://flic.kr/p/8WAXSD (Accessed: 19 June 2017)

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