| In its own way this novel is a far more sardonic satire and commentary on the fantasy genre than Mal Peet’s The Murdstone Trilogy, because it is more knowing of contemporary fantasy fashions. The 18th century style italicised chapter prefaces are absolutely hilarious and cumulatively withering in the way they so accurately pastiche the style and narrative content of so much recent fantasy writing.|
The main narrative of the novel is also a commentary in itself, being centred on the everyday life and relationships of a group of high school students in the year before graduation. We meet them on the first page “all sprawled together in the field, talking about love and stomachs”.
Narrated by Mikey, a character with high anxiety and periodic bouts of extreme OCD, the story concerns a perfectly ordinary bunch of adolescents very content to be ordinary, and keen to keep their distance from the “indie kids” (dangerous people infected with the sense that extraneous powers, dark and light, are at work in their lives).
“Our town is just like your town,” Mikey is keen for us to know close to the start of the book.
“Me, all I want to do is graduate. And have a last summer with my friends. And go away to college. And (more than) kiss Henna (more than) once. And then get on with finding out about the rest of my life.”
Ness uses a quote from Bjork, to set the tone for the novel. “I thought I could organise freedom. How Scandinavian of me.”
And so Mikey and his family friends pursue their down-to-earth American high school life while dark and foreboding things involving the indie kids go on around them.
This is an excellent and, in the sense that its ideal audience should be those aged about the same as its protagonists, an authentic YA novel. I don’t think the American setting will be off-putting to English readers in the slightest. The dialogue is way too sharp and the relationships between the protagonists far too involving for that to be an issue.