‘What if, on some level, way down deep inside, right down to the very simplest, purified form of who he was, what if he was corrupted? What if there was some tiny, tiny fault in the first building blocks of who he was, and everything since that first moment of his life was just papering over an essential crack? And he was just a caraspace built on a facade built on scaffolding and there was no real core to him, no real central worth? At all? Can I love? he thought. Can I? Can I be loved?’

I picked this up late one night and found myself finishing it the following morning. After reading A Monster Calls, I had very high expectations of the author to say the least and once again, Patrick Ness ambushed my heart and mind in even more unexpected ways.

The author had me in the palm of his hand before I even got to the story. A beautiful authors note at the beginning of the book describes ‘those days, those pivotal days, where everything – and I mean everything – falls apart. Relationships change, the world changes, and suddenly, you’re different and you have to reckon with a new you.‘ This short aside features some beautiful empathy and perfectly sets the tone for the story to come.

‘How do we ever, ever survive our teenage years? Every young person you meet is a walking, talking miracle.’

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The novel is built around a day in the life of Adam Thorn. Adam is about to endure one of those days that will change his life as he knows it forever and the reader is invited to follow him along as the events unfold. For Adam, this day is ‘a day where destinies change.’

Adam lives a suffocating life with his overtly religious family. They believe that ‘if you can’t pray it away, it’s not a real problem.’ Church is mandatory twice on Sundays, and once on Wednesdays. Adam feels like his parents and brother already have his story written for him. He is regarded as ‘dangerous’ and ‘the Prodigal Son in waiting.’ Between this strict family life, school and work, Adam Thorn ‘the keeper of secrets’ somehow squeezes in a social life.

Adam is currently recovering from a dilapidating case of heartbreak and is trying hard to move on. As the day begins, we learn that his ex is leaving the country and there will be a going away party later that evening. Meanwhile, Adam has to contend with his sleazy boss and his best friend Angela’s devastating news. These are just a few of the major events that Adam has to deal with during a day from hell.

‘This anger, he thought. This tedious, endless anger. Was that all there was ever going to be? Would it just twist him and twist him, obliterating everything else so he lost the ability to know when he should be angry because that was all there ever was?’

Then it gets weird. Very weird.

Sprinkled throughout Adam’s story, there are the unexpected adventures of a faun, a mythical Queen and the ghost of a murder victim. As the author says himself ‘there’s a ghost, because of course there’s a ghost.’ You’ll just have to trust in me and Patrick Ness’ talent when I say that he makes it work. (Of course he would be able to make it work!) Don’t let this part of the novel scare you away from a brilliant story!

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the theme of this novel is change. The events of this novel, both real and imagined, complement each other very well to convey this message. Letting go of things and becoming ‘untied’ are part of the process of change. The powerful and constant force of change can engineer a ‘release’ from life’s shackles if we learn how. Patrick Ness captures this sentiment perfectly in a novel that will surprise you in many ways.

Afterthoughts