Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness
Harper Collins, 2015  317 pgs
Grades 9-Up

Mikey is a semi-typical kid living in a small north-western town. He and his friends live within the shadow of the "indie kids"; hipster kids with funky names who have fantastical battles and adventures with magical creatures, all within the backdrop of boring small town life. Mickey's mother is a politician on her way from state government to the national senate. Mickey's OCD, which was formally under control, is rearing its ugly head, as his sister Mel battles with her chronic anorexia. Alcoholic Dad is no help, so it is up to the teens to keep their family afloat and make life as normal as possible for their younger sister. Meanwhile, Mikey's long time crush, Henna is suddenly available and Mikey wants to make his move before graduation separates them. Just as Mikey is ready to strike, new boy Nathan moves into town and steals Henna's attention. Mickey's best friend, Jared, is a demi-God, a product from a generations ago indie kid romance, and is worships by everything feline and has powers to make wounds less painful. Mikey faces the usual end-of-high-school problems, generally revolving around his fear of change and leaving both his home and his friends, all while battling his OCD, worrying about his sisters, and trying to interpret confusing signals from Henna. Meanwhile, the latest war between the indie kids and the mythical god-like creatures bent on taking over the world is underway. Both stories collide by the end in a satisfying conclusion. Is Nathan the new boy somehow connected to the indie kid battle? How will Mikey's problems work out? Does he ever connect with Henna? How do Jared's powers apply to the situation at hand? These and other questions will be answered by the end of this unusual novel.

I would love to visit the brain of Patrick Ness. He writes truly creative stories for young people with inventive plots. Just when I think there is nothing new under the sun, I read the latest novel by Ness and realize their are fresh stories to tell. His latest is a response to the influx of vampires/zombies/mythological creatures recently clogging up teen literature since Twilight was published ten years ago. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a typical realistic problem novel told within the background of the supernatural. Unlike most teen stories, the mundane is the main thread of the plot, while the supernatural story line is the lesser plot line and does not directly include the main characters, at least for the bulk of the novel. The plot of the indie kids is told only through sensationalized chapter headings. Jared's healing abilities and god-like status among the cat population are told matter of factually and seem probable as a normal ability. The story of a boring small town that is visited by a different supernatural element every generation and experienced only by kids with trendy names (such as Finn or Satchel) is tongue-in-cheek and very fresh and funny to someone who reads a lot of teen fiction. I'm just not sure if teens would get the humor or the subtle way the book makes fun of the teen magical creature/adventure/romance genre. I think it can be enjoyed by less sophisticated teen readers, but its full potential can only be reached by someone who gets the joke. That said, Mikey's problems are realistically told and we will route for him, although he is a bit of a whiny character. Jared the best friend is far more interesting, but then again, isn't the side kick usually more interesting in teen fiction? I found it a bit off putting that Mikey's sister, Mel starts dating a doctor at the hospital. Even though she is over eighteen (she missed a year of school due to her anorexia) she nevertheless is still in high school and an emotional mess as she is still dealing with her family and eating issues. Can't the doctor find a grown-up to date? All in all, a really fun and unique book for someone who reads a lot of teen literature, but maybe not the best bet for literal readers.

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