- they make my heart race
- they make me anxious
- they make me need to know what's going to happen next.
So, normally, a book like Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go wouldn't be on my to-read list, but it has won so many awards and been recommended to me by so many people, that I couldn't resist.
And even though it made my heart race anxiously and I stayed up till all hours finishing it, it was worth it, not just because of Ness's tight writing, or the New World he has brought to life for this series (all of which you can read about in reviews like this one), but because he made me care about the characters.
For me, whether it's a 2-hour movie or a 400 page book, if I don't actually feel enough about the character (whether those feelings are negative or positive) to care whether they succeed or fail, then I really can't be arsed investing my time in it. I stopped feeling guilty about putting down a book at page 50 long ago - life's too short and there are too many books on my to-read list.
It's not that I particularly liked the character of the book's protagonist, Todd, and I certainly couldn't identify with him in any way, but I've thought about it a lot since finishing the book, and I think what drew me to him (and to the other characters in the book, including the one that appeared in a nightmare this morning) is that Ness made him real - not just believable, or well-rounded, but real. I feel like if I passed Todd on the street I'd recognise him just by the way he walked and the expression on his face. Now that is a skill I want to learn...
BTW, apparently there's been some hoo-ha about knives as motifs in books for young people, from the usual suspects who think that young people are sponges for evil and can't think for themselves. Patrick Ness responded to it in The Guardian.