Sunday 21 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 88: "The Rest of Us Just Live Here" by Patrick Ness

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Growing up in a small town somewhere in America (schools, family-themed restaurant, lots of cars, a bunch of huge churches, a Wallmart, a couple of multiplexes, so many trees), Mikey and his sister Mel (don't call her Melinda) are just trying to get through their final year of high school, hoping that something so momentous happens that the indie kids have to blow up the school gym again. Who are the indie kids, you ask?

The indie kids are the ones that all the YA paranormals are usually about. They have names like Finn (there are several in this book), Dylan, Kerouac, Satchel or something else unusual (Joffrey, Aquamarine and Earth are also mentioned) and they are bound to attract whatever new threat is coming, be it sparkly vampires, aliens, faeries, contracting cancer so they can all die beautifully together. Currently, something or someones called the Immortals are looking for human vessels and looking for a portal through to our world. Their first victim is one of the Finns, but Mikey, Mel, Mikey's gay linebacker best friend Jared and Mikey and Mel's best friend Henna (her father is Finnish) don't really care about that. They see Finn running into the woods, but don't give it much thought, as they are unlikely to be directly affected.

Mikey and Mel have more than enough to worry about in their own lives. Mikey has a pretty serious case of OCD, while Mel is in the same year as the others (despite being a year older) because she was hospitalised with anorexia for a long while. Mikey is hopelessly in love with Henna, despite the fact that he knows that for most of the time he's known her, she's been with someone else. Even now that she's single, he's afraid to confess his true feelings for her. After graduation, her parents (who are missionaries) are taking her to some war-torn corner of Africa to do aid work, so he's running out of time if he wants to have a chance with her before she leaves. The Mitchell siblings' father is an alcoholic, while their mother is a State Senator, busy running for re-election and desperate that no one sees any flaws in their family dynamic. Only their ten-year-old sister Meredith seems to be entirely normal and not overly bothered by anything, except whether she'll a) get tickets for and b) permission to go see her favourite band play live.

Mikey struggles with his anxiety and his OCD getting increasingly worse. Henna needs to decide whether she's going to stand up to her parents and refuse to go to Africa. Jared, who could easily have been an indie kid with the heritage he has (there is a reason all cats are absolutely mad for him) has weighty decisions of his own to make, and doesn't really feel that he can talk to his other friends about them. Mel still needs to be reminded to eat regularly and chafes under the concern from her mother. All the while they each have their own private little crises, the Immortals are causing havoc in the little town, causing accidents, disappearances and more indie kid deaths.

This is my first Patrick Ness book (I've heard so many good things about so many of his novels) and I decided to read it as it was one of the runners up in the YA Cannonball Book Club poll. Since I'd already read (well, listened to in audio) the winning book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, earlier this year, I wanted to see what other options we might have ended up with.

I'll give Patrick Ness this, his characters pretty much tick off every single square on a diversity bingo card. There is no danger of bland white-washing here. Eating disorders, mental illness, homosexuality, racial diversity (Henna is half African American, as well as being half Finnish). There's bad parents, so so parents and some really very great ones. These kids felt fairly real, which I guess is the point, as the whole book is a bit of a satire on all the melodramatic YA fantasy and sci-fi novels so popular right now. I'm such a sucker for those kinds of books though, and I think my favourite bits of the whole novel were the little snippets at the beginning of each chapter relating what was happening to the indie kids - I'm not ashamed to say I'd happily read a whole novel about Satchel and her struggles to save the town.

I liked this book, but I didn't love it. As I have at least four other Ness books waiting on my bookshelves, this will absolutely not be the only book of his I'll ever read. I think the conceit of the book is more clever than the execution, but your mileage may vary.

Judging a book by its cover: I really love this cover, done in mostly blues with just a few characters in full colour (obviously our protagonists). The very skinny Mel, Jared with a cat at his feet, the neurotic Mikey and finally Henna, while all the others are the indie kids that these YA books are normally about. Interspersed between them are what I'm assuming are the Immortals, the creatures threatening the town, always in the background of our main characters' lives.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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