I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Rest of us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperTeen on October 6 2015
Genres: Young adult, Fantasy, Contemporary
The nitty-gritty: A cleverly constructed story that blends contemporary and fantasy YA fiction in a completely new way.
There’s so much crazy in this world, my counting and hand-washing and door-locking and checking and tapping can seem like raging mental health by comparison. Jared’s crazy is way crazier than mine, though I don’t think his makes him lie awake at night in bed, thinking it’d be easier if he was—
And if you don’t know, you don’t want to.
“There’s a mountain lion out there,” Jared says, looking out his window.
I sigh. “There’s always a mountain lion out there.”
December is “catch-up” month, so you’ll mostly see reviews of books that were published earlier in the year.
I’ve been hearing great things about this book for months, and I’m so glad I took the time to catch up and read it. My only other Patrick Ness experience is A Monster Calls, which is quite different. In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness takes the “chosen one/superhero” trope and turns it on its head—literally. Instead of focusing on the Buffys of the world, Ness sets his story in a small town surrounded by woods where the “indie kids” fight all sorts of evil in the background, while the main story is actually about the normal kids, ones who don’t have any special powers at all (except for one, and I’ll get to him later).
It took me a while to figure out what was going on, several chapters at least, but once I caught on, I nearly read this book straight through, it was so addictive. Ness starts each chapter with a short paragraph describing the adventures of the indie kids, who are battling a new evil in town called the Immortals. But the meat of each chapter is a story that revolves around five main characters: Mikey, an insecure senior with OCD who wants nothing more than to kiss the secret love of his life, Henna; Jared, Mikey’s best friend who keeps him from falling into the deep end and who also happens to be gay; Henna, a bright girl whose missionary parents are about to drag her to a dangerous part of Africa after graduation; Mel, Mikey’s older sister who sort of recovered from an eating disorder, but still isn’t one hundred percent well; and Meredith, Mikey’s ten-year-old sister, a brilliant girl who wants nothing more than to see her favorite band Bolts of Fire.
This may sound like a roll call of young adult’s Most Dysfunctional Characters Ever, and you’d be sort of right. But don’t let that stop you from reading this book. Ness is such a good writer that he can take a story full of messed-up kids and turn it into something magical. What is this story really about? It’s about graduating from high school and leaving behind your friends and family, learning how to share your deepest, darkest secrets, how to deal with family expectations, how to survive when your parents aren’t there for you and how to survive when they’re too present. It touches on all sorts of issues, like sexual orientation, eating disorders, mental illness and more, but never really feels like an “issue” book.
What keeps it from sinking into a pit of depression is Ness’s humor. The story is told in first person from Mikey’s point of view, and I loved his wry way of looking at the world, even while living in a town where vampires and soul-eating ghosts are standard fare. His relationship with his sisters was one of my favorite parts of the book, but then again I loved his friendship with Jared just as much. I mentioned earlier that one of the main characters isn’t quite normal, and that’s Jared. Jared’s grandmother is a God, specifically a God of cats, and that makes Jared one-quarter God. I won’t tell you everything about his powers, but I will mention that cats—all kinds of cats, including big cats—are drawn to him. How cool is that?
There are all kinds of complicated and messy relationships going on, which isn’t unusual in YA, but I also enjoyed the way parents are portrayed in this story. At first glance, I absolutely hated Mikey’s parents. His mother is a high-powered politician who seems to care more about her career than her family, and his father is a drunk who can barely walk straight most of the time. But little by little, his mother and father become much more than two-dimensional, absentee parents, and transform into real people with (happily) solvable problems. Call me crazy, but I do love happy endings now and then!
And I can’t believe I’ve gone this far in my review without mentioning the Buffy connection! If you aren’t a fan of the show, then this observation is going to go over your head, but this book reminded me so much of a Buffy episode called “The Zeppo.” This episode is all about Xander, the guy who is always on the outside, the one without a special power. But in “The Zeppo,” Xander gets his day in the sun. While Buffy and the Scoobies are off trying to stop another apocalypse, Xander has his own adventure, and by the end of the show, he manages to single-handedly stop Sunnydale High from blowing up. Ness makes several references to “getting through senior year without the high school blowing up—again!” so he’s clearly used this Buffy episode as a springboard. (Or if I’m wrong, it’s a fantastic coincidence!)
So just like in “The Zeppo,” the apocalypse isn’t really part of the action. Sure, we get glimpses of what the indie kids are going though, and a couple of times our characters even come face to face with the evil. But for the most part, this is a coming-of-age story with just a taste of the supernatural. The Rest of Us Just Live Here isn’t for everyone—the reviews are actually quite mixed on Goodreads—but if you are looking for something unique in YA, love humorous dialog, and enjoy a good poking-fun-at-tropes story, then I absolutely insist you read this book.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.