And the Ocean Was Our Sky: A Review

cover art for And the Ocean was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina CaiAs a young whale Bathsheba was all too eager to join Captain Alexandra’s crew hunting men for both vengeance and the raw materials used in everyday whale life.

But after years spent working her way up to Third Apprentice on the fiercest crew in the sea and sailing down toward the air-filled Abyss to hunt men, Bathsheba has begun to question the raw hatred that drives hunters in their constant war.

Bathsheba’s weary narrative is heavy with foreshadow and circumspection as she relates the events that set her crew on a fateful hunt for the man Toby Wick–the devil known to both whale and man for his terrible deeds and his fierce white ship in And the Ocean Was Our Sky (2018) by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai.

If you haven’t guessed yet Ness’s latest standalone novel is a very loose retelling of Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick where harpoon-wielding whales are hunters every bit as fierce as men themselves.

Ness channels Melville’s original language well and uses the structure of Moby-Dick as a framework for this fast-paced and streamlined retelling filled with philosophical meditations and cautions against both the violence of war and the power of prophecy–especially self-fulfilling ones. Although Bathsheba’s warnings often lack subtlety they remain powerful and timely.

Cai’s accompanying illustrations interspersed throughout the book bring the depths of the ocean to life with jarring, full color artwork that calls back to the haunting setting and anguished tone of the narrative.

And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a stirring counterpoint to the original text, rife with questions about the inexorable nature of belief and violence.

*A more condensed version of this review was published the August 2018 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review*

The Rest of Us Just Live Here: A Review

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick NessMikey isn’t the chosen one. He’s not going to fall in love with a vampire. (It’s hard enough just trying to tell Henna how he feels now that she’s finally broken up with her boyfriend.) He isn’t going to change his name to Finn or Satchel or Kerouac. He isn’t going to fight zombies. (Not when he’s busy trying to keep his own OCD tendencies under control.) He isn’t going to rid the town of ghosts. (Not when the almost-loss of his sister is still so fresh.)

Sometimes it’s hard being the chosen one. Just ask any of the Indie kids at school. But, as Mikey knows all too well, sometimes it’s also hard just being a regular guy trying to make it through senior year and make sense of his life–hopefully before the high school gets blown up. Again.

When it feels like every week there’s a new impending doom, sometimes the most extraordinary thing to do is live your regular not-chosen-one life. Even if your best friend is worshiped by cats in The Rest of Us Just Live Here (2015) by Patrick Ness.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is Ness’ clever send-off of almost every recent supernatural/paranormal trend to have hit YA literature. Remember when everyone was falling in love with vampires? What about the soul eating ghosts? Or way back when the big thing everyone was dealing with was Gods? They all make an appearance in Mikey’s town where high schools get blown up more often than kids named Finn end up at the center of a battle for humanity.

But none of that is really Mikey’s problem because he isn’t an indie kid and, as such, it’s also not a concern of The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Chapter headings explain the “big” story as indie kids Satchel and Finn (not the dead one, the other one) try to save the world from something . . . weird. Meanwhile this book focuses on Mikey’s life in the background of this supernatural drama as he looks toward the end of high school and all of the uncertainty it holds for himself, his best friend Jared, Henna–the girl he thinks he loves, and Mikey’s sister Mel.

The thing to remember here, is that despite the backdrop of supernatural on every level, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is basically a contemporary story. And a familiar one at that with Mikey’s uncertainty about nearly everything except his rock solid bond with his best friends.

While the premise of characters doing the best they can on the periphery of a bigger drama seems original, in Ness’ hands it feels decidedly trite. Something in the execution of The Rest of Us Just Live Here–with its obvious nods to classic YA like Twilight and TV shows like Buffymakes this otherwise enjoyable novel feel unoriginal and slight. While not necessarily a bad thing for every reader, it can make it hard to connect with (or even care) about these characters.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is an ideal choice for readers who like their stories a bit zany and their adventures madcap. Recommended for readers suffering from paranormal romance/dystopian adventure fatigue.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Geek Fantasy Novel by E. Archer, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin, All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder, We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

More Than This: A Review

More Than This by Patrick NessAt the beginning there is just a boy drowning. He tries to fight against the water, the current and the waves, in those last moments he really does fight. But the water is harder and, eventually, it wins.

The boy dies.

That should be the end but somehow it isn’t.

There is more.

The boy wakes up half naked and exhausted–hungry and thirsty in a neighborhood that is at once familiar and other. Everything is abandoned. The boy is alone. Except is any of that really true? The boy can’t be sure when even being dead seems uncertain now. Exploring this new landscape the boy will delve into his past as well as his arduous present in order to discover what really lies ahead of him in More Than This (2013) by Patrick Ness.

Other reviewers have, fairly, suggested that this book is best enjoyed when you go into without expectations or too much knowledge of what it’s about. That is partly true as the story has quite a few shocking twists.

On the other hand, after part one More Than This almost become an entirely different book. Which is okay because for the entire first part (roughly 150 pages) we are only in the boy’s head. He is alone. He is surviving. And, honestly, that gets less interesting over time.

Ness is a critically acclaimed author with lots of shiny, well-deserved awards to his name already. The writing in More Than This is smooth and effortless. Unfortunately the writing and the plot were not enough to actually make this book particularly gripping or exciting. Flashbacks break into the present story with a jarring frequency. Although the boy is hungry and feels threatened, there never seemed to be a real sense of urgency.

The premise of More Than This is promising (even just the superficial one that gets turned upside and sideways as the book progresses) and will find an eager audience among readers who enjoy books that toe the line between life and death and ponder what might come after. The ultimate meaning behind the book’s title is also a lovely element to the story. It just, sadly, wasn’t enough to make this a standout read for me.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach,The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Between by Jessica Warman, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey