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Book Highlights: Patrick Ness Takes on Death and Teenage Pain in New Book

Patrick ness

In his latest novel, More Than This, writer Patrick Ness takes on death, a mature topic to be sure. But interestingly, he's written this book for young adult readers.

Ness’s protagonist, Seth, dies in the first sentence of the book, but the story is just beginning. We learn that Seth had just moved from England to the U.S. and was feeling overwhelmingly lonely. As the story progresses, we see how Seth deals with intense struggles, that while common for many teens, affect him deeply.

Here are some highlights from our interview:

On acknowledging 'teenage pain':

"I think the worst thing you can say to a teenager who's having a difficult time is, 'You'll grow out of it.' Well, you will grow out of it, but that's completely beside the point, because you're not going to grow out of it this afternoon, and it's still pain. It's to acknowledge that teenage pain is real pain, but it's saying that in addition to that, there is more."

On Seth learning to get through that pain:

"Even if you think that's impossible, there's always an additional thing you can feel. It doesn't replace the bad feeling, but you can feel it alongside it, and that complication, well, that's what growing up is."

On the challenge of writing for teenagers about dark themes:

"To not address dark stuff is to abandon a teenager and leave them to fend for themselves, and I think that's the immoral position because if I can engage and I can tell the truth about what's dark and say, 'Yes, I know. I take you seriously, but there's also this.' When I say, 'But there's also this,' they'll believe me because I haven't lied about what's difficult."

On what teenage readers really care about:

"With a teenager, they just want a rollicking good tale, so if you can do that, then you can slip in all the stuff you want, you can slip in all the themes you want, all the jokes you want. It's liberating."

Ness’s previous work has won awards including the Carnegie Medal and the Galaxy National Book Award in the UK.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.