Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Review: "The Rest of Us Just Live Here" by Patrick Ness

Loved this, loved this, loved this.

There's a lot of fiction out there these days about extraordinary situations that threaten the world—usually it's an attack by aliens, monsters, or vampires, or otherwise the country is in danger because of war, dystopia, or political manipulation. It usually falls to one person, or a group of people, to save the world and solve the problems facing it.

Patrick Ness' terrific The Rest of Us Just Live Here turns that concept on its head. While a small community is under siege by mysterious forces and a group of "indie kids" (aka hipsters) have to figure out who (or what) is responsible before they destroy the world and keep killing people, Ness' book focuses on a group of friends who aren't the chosen ones. They're just a group of best friends, each dealing with their own problems, and just counting down the days until they graduate from high school and can leave their town behind.

"Not everyone has to be the 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 book is narrated by Mike, a sensitive high school senior battling OCD, who wants nothing more than to pursue a relationship with his friend Henna before they graduate and she heads off to Africa on a mission trip with her parents. His sister Mel has had more than her own share of problems but is trying to stay above water and pursue a relationship of her own. Mike's best friend Jared is more than just a smart, generous football player—he's the most complicated of them all. And Mike and Mel's problems get exacerbated when their ambitious politician mother decides to run for the U.S. Senate, since her last political campaign nearly destroyed their family.

Each chapter of this book starts with a brief description of what is happening among the indie kids who are fighting the menacing problem threatening to destroy the town. It doesn't really mention those events again unless Mike or one of his friends comes across a related situation. They're sad that the indie kids are dying, but mostly, they're just hoping their high school doesn't blow up (again) before prom and graduation.

As I've said many times, I love books that make me feel all the feels, and this one definitely did that. Ness so perfectly captured not only the typical teenage angst about how life will change after high school graduation, and falling in love with one of your best friends, but he deftly balanced that with all of the other emotional issues the characters dealt with. I totally identified with Mike's fears that he was the odd man out among his friends, and that he was the neediest one of them all.

Ness is a great writer (I'm definitely going to have to read some more of his books because he has a new fan in me) and I felt his dialogue and pacing were close to pitch-perfect. Until I understood the concept of the book I was a little confused, because I kept expecting the chapters to actually contain elements of the story that their introductory blurbs hinted at, but once I got the idea, it didn't matter. This is moving, funny, and utterly enjoyable—it's nice to read a story about (mostly) "ordinary" teenagers in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.

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