More Than This is ambiguous without providing all the answers, it is challenging because it is honest, it is dark and yet it is full of life, and it is beautiful in showing human depravity. Young Adult fiction is not supposed to be like More Than This, one could argue. Young Adult fiction is supposed to be a part of children's fiction - focused on allowing teenagers to escape the boundaries of reality and remember the better parts of the past as children. As such Young Adult fiction has always seemed to be the last link between childhood and adulthood. However, Patrick Ness' new novel here instead aims to sever those last links - this is the last novel between childhood and adulthood.
I say this because Ness' work is brutally honest - although not necessarily a true depiction of human life. It is brutally honest in how it explores the worst aspects of humanity. Abusive parents, messed up teenage relationships, addictions and many other dark aspects of the world. In fact the rather open way in which Ness deals with such things make this a book that isn't for everyone and doesn't particularly have a hero at all. There is no noble sacrificial knight, no damsel in distress and certainly no chosen one. There are just ordinary teenagers, reacting to their harsh lives as best as they can.
You would think this makes for a rather bleak novel and to a degree it does. And an uncomfortable one too (particularly how the romantic angles are handled), and yet for all the discomfort, there are some wonderful ideas and themes inside the book. If I were to describe how it begins, I would say there is a Matrix kind of resonance to the book itself in how you have a boy ripped from one reality into another and attempts to make sense of both realities. And as with the best science fiction works, Ness aims to give the reader questions without answering them all.
One of the main themes throughout this novel is summed up perfectly by a line that is repeated two or three times: "I can be anyone's everything." It is a line that resonates so very truly for life itself. As John Donne famously wrote once: "No man is an island,/Entire of itself,/Every man is a piece of the continent,/A part of the main." I believe this is a theme that Ness aims to convey. No individual can be a refuge to others, in and of themselves, yet what we can be is part of that refuge.
The following are some of the questions raised by Ness: the reasons for existence, why the world is such a messed up place, the darkness of humanity and whether we can escape it, what to do with messed up relationships, and ultimately is there something more than everything we see? Personally these questions are somewhat answered for me by my faith (what some might call the Christian religion) and yet I still do not have all the answers. No one does though and deep down we're all just as fragile and messed up as each other. As a C.S. Lewis quote I saw today goes: "I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." And I see this as incredibly true, because it takes courage, guts, determination and deeply rooted belief to stick true to values that many may see as unfashionable and unnecessary in today's world. And yet they are necessary for me - without them where do I get the answers to life being messy and conflicted? Questions that very few people will willingly answer.
Either way, if you don't like conflicting questions I recommend not reading this novel. If you are not into messed up characters I also recommend avoiding this. However, if you are into beautifully written novels (albeit with a minimalist bent) that ask the questions focusing on eternal truths then I fully recommend reading this novel. It won't ask all the questions, but maybe it will get you thinking. And that is what great sci-fi does.