More than This by Patrick Ness   Candlewick Press, 2013   472 pages

Seth Wearing awakens, naked, thirsty and starving, on a vaguely familiar sidewalk in a deserted neighborhood. His only solid memory is of his own death. Seth vividly recalls drowning in the ocean. He remembers tossing around like a rag doll in the waves and bashing against the rocks. He can feel the icy water in his lungs and the snap of his shoulder breaking. Yet he is undeniably alive.

Alone in a bleak, suburban landscape, Seth attempts to make sense of his situation. Disoriented and weak, he stumbles into the nearest house, which appears to have been deserted for years. As his memory returns in painful bits and pieces, Seth realizes that he is in his childhood home in England.

The Wearing family left England when Seth was a young boy. They moved to a small town in the Pacific Northwest in an attempt to flee the painful memories of Seth’s brother, Owen’s, abduction. Seth has no memory of ever returning to England.

The dusty, deserted house is oddly unsettling, the air crackling with a foreboding sense of looming danger. As he cautiously explores his surroundings, Seth decides that he must be in hell, because that is the only explanation that makes any sense. Then he discovers the sleek, black coffin in the attic.

While he is foraging for supplies, Seth meets Regine and Thomasz. Regine is seventeen, and Thomasz appears to be about twelve. Like Seth, they both have clear memories of their own deaths. Regine fell down the stairs and hit her head, and Thomasz claims lightning struck him in the head.

Regine and Thomasz have been awake longer than Seth – long enough that they have theories about where they are and what is going on. More importantly, they have been awake long enough to encounter “The Driver,” a mysterious, armor-clad figure who may or may not be human, and who most certainly seems to be determined to capture and kill Regine, Thomasz and Seth.

Author Patrick Ness delivers a gripping pager turner that drawers readers in on the first page and never relaxes its grip. The mystery is so complex, and Ness does such a great job of conveying Seth’s angst and confusion, that I did not see the ending coming until I was almost there.

More than This is more than just a suspense thriller. The prose is lyrical and descriptive. As Seth attempts to make sense of his newfound circumstances, he reflects on the life and people that he left behind. Readers contemplate with him the myriad of ways that humans fail one another and redeem themselves.

Ness injects just enough humor at precisely the right moments to keep the story from falling into abject hopelessness. In More than This, Ness depicts for his readers life in all of its messy, painful and beautiful glory. Readers must decide for themselves what it really means to be alive, and whether there really is More than This in the end.

 Heather Holley-Hall is Alamance County Public Libraries’ Head of Branch Services. She may be reached at 336-570-6730 or