Shelf Control #277: And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

Shelves final

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Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

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Title: And the Ocean Was Our Sky
Author: Patrick Ness
Published: 2018
Length: 160 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a richly illustrated and lyrical tale, one that asks harrowing questions about power, loyalty, obsession, and the monsters we make of others.

With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself…

As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.

With the lush, atmospheric art of Rovina Cai woven in throughout, this remarkable work by Patrick Ness turns the familiar tale of Moby Dick upside down and tells a story all its own with epic triumph and devastating fate.

How and when I got it:

I treated myself to the hardcover edition when it was released in 2018.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read several Patrick Ness books by now, but not nearly enough! I think I have at least two more of his books sitting on my shelf, still to be read (maybe future Shelf Control books?). I was drawn to this book for a few reasons:

  1. I’ve never not liked Patrick Ness’s writing, even if the book’s main topic isn’t of huge interest to me. Can’t say I’ve ever been let down.
  2. It’s illustrated by Rovina Cai! She also does the illustrations for Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children books, and I love her artwork.
  3. I’ve seen this book described as telling the story of Moby Dick from the whale’s perspective, and what’s not to love about that?? I actually read Moby Dick a few years ago (yes, really), and I think experiencing an “upside down” version of the story would be fascinating.

I really do intend to read this book soon… or as soon as I can remember which shelf I left it on, last time I came across it.

PS – The opening line of this book is:

Call me Bathsheba.

How awesome is that?

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Take A Peek Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

The Rest of Us

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

 

My Thoughts:

I loved quite a bit of this book, but was left with an overall “meh” feeling by the end. I thought the set-up was pretty brilliant. Think of Buffy and her gang of Scoobies. Now think of all the other kids who weren’t running around staking vampires or chasing demons. The characters in The Rest of Us Just Live Here are the equivalent of all the Sunnydale High students who aren’t part of Buffy’s gang — the kids who just want to graduate, enjoy prom, and chill with their friends, despite all the end-of-the-world shenanigans happening in the world of the chosen, special kids.

Everyone knows the indie kids don’t use the internet — have you noticed? They never do, it’s weird, like it never occurs to them, like it’s still 1985 and there’s only card catalogs — so we can’t find them discussing anything online. The vibe seems to be that it’s totally not our business. Historically, non-indie kids were pretty much left alone by the vampires and the soul-eating ghosts, so maybe they have a point.

The main character and his friends and family are all interesting and quirky, with their own challenges and gifts, and they just kind of notice that in the background of their more immediate crises, the “indie” kids (hilariously named Satchel, Dylan, and Finn, Finn, and Finn — there are lots of Finns) are being chased through the woods by zombie deer and bizarre columns of blue light keep appearing in their town.

“Listen to me,” he says, sounding angry. “We’ve got prom, we’ve got graduation, we’ve got the summer. Then everything changes. Are you going to live all that time until we go afraid?”

“Probably.”

“Please don’t.” He’s still weirdly angry. “Not everyone has to the be Chosen One. Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing the things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes no sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway.”

The Rest of Us Just Live Here shows how all kids (all people, really) are the center of their own worlds, and that even if you’re not the one who saves the world, your problems and issues matter too. There are some really nice elements about loyalty, friendship, and protecting the people you love, but somehow, the book didn’t really come together for me or deliver on its early promise. The writing is clever, funny, and touching, but the end left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.
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The details:

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: October 6, 2015
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Purchased

A Monster Calls: Review and reflection

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

What can I say about a book like this? Beautiful and awful are two words that come to mind, but neither do justice to the power of A Monster Calls.

A Monster Calls is the story of Conor O’Malley, a 13-year-old so isolated by suffering that he’s become practically invisible to the world around him. Conor’s mother has cancer, and despite her cheery reassurances, the latest round of chemo does not seem to be going well. Conor’s father departed years ago for a new life with a new wife and baby in America, and Conor lives alone with his mother in a small English town, where he attends school in a fog of despair and loneliness.

At night, though, the nightmares start. Until one night, Conor is visited by a monster — a giant creature formed from the yew tree that Conor can see from his bedroom window. The monster seems like a creature from hell, bent on destruction and threatening to eat Conor — but what it wants is a story. The monster tells Conor its conditions: The monster will tell Conor three different stories, and then it will be Conor’s turn to tell the monster a story, but it must be the truth. Conor knows which story the monster wants from him, and it’s the one thing he absolutely does not want to give voice to.

The monster isn’t all that it seems, and as the story-telling proceeds, the monster becomes the voice of reason and honesty for Conor. Through the monster, Conor is forced to confront his own rage and sorrow, the fact that belief in something — anything — matters, and the subjective nature of terms like “good” and “evil”.

The illustrations in A Monster Calls are stark and glorious. Jim Kay’s black and white inks are stunning — scary and bleak, portraying the monster as otherworldly and frightening, yet also as something natural that seems to belong in the mundane world of garden sheds, grandfather clocks, and schoolyards.

I don’t know that I can really articulate my feelings about this book without going off on a personal tangent. I know that I have certain emotional triggers in books, and A Monster Calls hits all of  the most powerful ones for me.

When I was eleven, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After four years of struggle, illness, and suffering, she died at the young age of forty-four. I was fifteen at the time, and although many years have passed and for the most part I don’t actively think about those years any longer, the emotions still lurk below the surface, never far away. Reading A Monster Calls brought my experiences from those years right back to me.

Conor is overwhelmed by rage — a rage that literally destroys whatever is in its path. All-consuming too is his guilt, a guilt that fuels his nightmares and drives him further and further from the people around him. He goes through the motions of a normal kid’s life, but it’s as if he’s an alien in the midst of humans. His experiences and inner life are so separate, so “other”, that it’s no wonder the kids at his school seem to see right through him. He’s scared for his mother, but he’s also scared for himself. He wants to keep her with him, but he wants her to stop suffering. He’s angry, he’s sad, and he just has no idea what to do with all of the emotions that threaten to engulf him at any second.

I get it. The scariness of watching the parent you count on turn into someone who needs protection. The helplessness of seeing a good and kind person suffer — and seeing that person worry more about her child’s well-being than her own. Being on the receiving end of well-intentioned reassurances that cannot possibly come true. It’s awful and it’s painful and it’s a reminder, especially to a child, of just how little in life can be controlled.

So yes, I read A Monster Calls and could barely breathe by the end. Reading Conor’s story was an instant and visceral reminder of my own experiences during the terrible years of my mother’s illness. The book feels real and true. It’s not a soapy melodrama, but an honest look at the messy emotions that are bundled up in loss and grief.

In spare but lovely prose, Patrick Ness captures all of this and more, and the illustrations are stunningly perfect. A Monster Calls is an award winning children’s book, geared for ages 12 and up, but it’s certainly something that adults should seek out as well.

My 10-year-old, having seen me absorbed by this book all week, has asked if I’d read it to him when I finished. I think he’s mostly fascinated by the artwork — understandably so. I hate to turn down a request for a book. As someone who always read “up” (grabbing whatever books my older sister was reading whenever she wasn’t looking), I don’t usually pay too much attention to recommended age ranges for reading materials. And yet, I don’t think my kiddo is really ready for something like this yet. It’s one thing to read about loss and grief in a fantasy setting such as Harry Potter — quite another to read about a boy going through a horrible loss in a real, recognizable world. I do think I’d like him to read A Monster Calls eventually — but perhaps in a few years, when he’s ready to read it on his own and really be prepared to think and reflect about Conor’s experiences.

According to the Author’s Note, the characters and premise of this story were created by the author Siobhan Dowd, who herself died from cancer before she was able to bring the concept to fruition. Patrick Ness was asked to take her initial concepts and turn them into a book, and he has done so in way that feels like both a beautiful achievement on its own and a lovely tribute to Siobhan Dowd. A Monster Calls is quite an accomplishment on so many levels, and all I can say is that it shouldn’t be missed.