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

TheRestofUsJustLiveHereI was really excited when I got the message from my local library that it was already my turn to check out the ebook version of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. And also annoyed.  The problem with putting ebooks on hold is that you never know when you’re going to get them and then you only have seven days to read the thing before it gets sent back regardless of how busy you are that week! I love that I don’t have to go to the library, but I hate that there is so much pressure to read something right this very second… #firstworldproblems

Anyway, I loved the Chaos Walking trilogy, and I’ve been waiting for Mr. Ness to come out with something that was equally engaging. So, when I read the author’s brief one or two line synopsis somewhere, I thought, “Killer concept, awesome title. Can’t wait to see what he does with this.”

The main character in this book is Mikey – he and his friends are ‘normal’ kids that live in a world where crazy supernatural stuff is always happening and threatening to destroy the world – like vampires, ghosts, etc. – but the people at the center of all the crazy are these “indie kids” – Chosen Ones – who all have kitschy names like Satchel. They run around causing and solving these supernatural disasters while everyone else just, well, lives there.  We get just a little snippet at the beginning of each chapter letting us know what the indie kids are up to before cutting back into the lives of the normal kids – though they have their own weird things going on, too – and then occasionally we get to see the two narratives cross, very briefly.

It was brilliant how the author conveyed how desensitized the main characters were to the supernatural events happening around them. They would see it or sometimes be RIGHT THERE when it happened – like a pillar of blue light, for example – acknowledge it in a ‘huh, that’s weird’ kind of way and then turn around a go home without another thought about it. Like “This stuff happens everyday and whatever. The indie kids will figure it out.”

I really like how Ness is poking fun at these contemporary YA books that have over-the-top unusual character names. Satchel is the main indie kid, but Mikey lists all the names of the indie kids he can think of and they’re all horrible, terrible names for real people – but are typical YA novel protagonist names (another Satchel – a boy, Nash, a couple o’ Dylans, like, five Finns).  This is one of my pet peeves about YA books – it just seems like every author thinks that their main protag needs a really unique name. I get it – you think your character is the next Katniss. She’s not, sorry. I’ve put down books for good because every single character, young and old, had a weird name. It just isn’t realistic; it throws you out of the story; especially if the setting is contemporary Earth – even if it is a fantasy. Please, rethink that character you named Sunrise or Biffington. Please, for the love. If you want to make up character names, write a fantasy/sci-fi thing set on another world or in the future of this one. /endrant

Another great thing about this book is that the characters sound like teenagers. One thing in particular stuck out to me: Mikey and his friends named an older character “Call Me Steve” and Mikey keeps referring to him as Call Me Steve for a good portion of the book, which made me smile every time I read it. My friends used to do that sort of thing when I was that age (my freshman friends in college called my brother “Robot Stacy”….true story).

So, there were definitely things that I enjoyed about this book- and then there are things that I didn’t.

My main issue with the book is that it reminded me a lot of Red Shirts (by John Scalzi) at the start (which is an excellent read). You have these characters who exist outside the exciting ‘narrative’ and they’re just trying to stay clear lest they get sucked in and (inevitably) get killed. Where the two books differ is that the characters in Red Shirts are active and the characters in The Rest of Us are not. Mikey is the only character who wonders what is going on with those indie kids and is concerned that maybe they won’t figure out how to solve the current crisis before the world is destroyed – but he doesn’t do anything about it. His friend Jared tells him to stay out of it, so he does. End of story. Frankly, I was more interested in what Sachel and Finn #2 were doing than the main characters. But then again, I have a hard time with contemporary YA in general because it tends to be boring and depressing.  So perhaps this is simply a matter of personal preference.

There was also a fairly obvious Chekhov’s gun that if it hadn’t finally happened, I may have just thrown my iPad across the room. But then again, it was also very heavy handed – “Well, of course this thing is happening – the characters have mentioned it six times already!” There are running jokes (which can be clever!) and there are jokes that just run on…

In addition, Ness’ characters are usually pretty broken, and this novel is no exception. Realistically, not everyone has a terrible life; not everyone is depressed and miserable – just sayin’.

I don’t know what’s happened with this author recently, but the last two books I’ve read of his were just underwhelming. His titles are perfect, brilliant even. They make you want to pick up his books, but I just wish there were fewer mentally unstable teenagers, less misery and more protag-ing. He had a great concept, but I think he fumbled it.

The first of Patrick Ness’ novels that I read was The Knife of Never Letting Go – which was weird sci-fi brilliance- loved it. The follow ups: The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men were just as good. I would highly recommend all three of them.

This one, I would skip.

Give me a reason to pick up your books again, Mr. Ness. Please.

 

~ ebook checked out from the local library.

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