Monday, 16 May 2016

'The Rest of Us Just Live Here' by Patrick Ness

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'The indie kids, huh? You've got them at your school, too. That group with the cool-geek haircuts and the charity shop clothes and names from the fifties. Nice enough, never mean, but always the ones who end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the alien queen needs the Source of All Light or something. They're too cool to ever, ever do anything like go to prom or listen to music other than jazz while reading poetry. They've always got some story going on that they're the heroes of. The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges, left out of it all, for the most part.
Having said that, the indie kids do die a lot. Which must suck.' 
I haven't read a Patrick Ness book before. I've been very intimidated by his writing, because he's so popular - the Chaos Walking series, 'A Monster Calls', 'More Than This'... All of his books have such positive reviews and such a loyal fanbase that I wasn't sure where to start. However, because I'm still attempting to read all of the YA book prize nominees before the winner is announced, I had no choice but to dive in to this one.
'The Rest of Us Just Live Here' is a book that tells two stories: the story of indie kid Satchel and her fight against The Immortals, and the story of Mikey, a teenager who suffers from anxiety that is becoming steadily worse as he approaches graduation and the huge changes that come with it. Instead of jumping backwards and forwards between their stories throughout the chapters, Satchel's story is told in the chapter headings with the majority of the book comprised of Mikey's narration.
It's absolutely genius, and utterly and completely relevant.

If you haven't seen 'Captain America: Civil War', look away now.

If the popularity of 'Civil War' tells us anything, it's that the public want to hear the background stories. There's a character called Zemo who causes all kinds of trouble for the Avengers, the reason being that his family were killed in the big events at the end of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron', and because they were just collateral damage - the little people - the Avengers never went back to help clean up the city that they'd destroyed or the lives that they'd ruined.

Why is that relevant to 'The Rest of Us Just Live Here'?

Because in every YA EVER, crazy shit goes down and it only seems to be experienced by the main characters that we follow around. In 'Twilight', I bet a lot of the characters sat in the background in the cafeteria were confused and questioning about the mysterious Cullens, but because it's Bella's story we don't get to see them whispering, or hear the rumours circulating.
The indie kids are the ones living the story - they're the ones struggling against the Immortals, the ones trying to save the town - but because Mikey and his friends can see all of this terrifying and paranormal stuff going on, they want to be able to do something to help.
They can't, though. It's not their story. They're the background characters.
So the main characters are the background characters.

Can you see how freaking genius this book is?!?!

I can't even describe how excited I am about this novel. It's fresh, it's brilliant, it's so mind-blowingly clever I think I could explode. But it's so obvious! I can't believe that it hasn't been done before, because it's just looking at events from a different perspective... It shouldn't have taken this long for someone to write a book like this. It plays with the stereotypes in such a wonderful way, and it's so tongue-in-cheek, mocking the YA genre as a whole (particularly the fads that had come and gone over the past few years):
'In my lifetime, we're had 1) the undead, 2) those soul-eating ghosts, 3) the vampire cycle of romance and death, and 4) whatever might be happening now with the body of Finn and the terrified deer, if they're even connected (they're probably connected).'
"This is worse than when they were all dying beautifully of cancer." 
The thing is, as well as being an ingenious concept, Mikey's story is absorbing and interesting too - it's just made more captivating because of the juxtaposition between his regular every day struggles (the girl he likes has feelings for the new guy, his father's an alcoholic and his mother's a workaholic) and the earth-shattering events that are being experiencing by the group of indie kids who are very rapidly meeting their demise.
Mikey's sister, Mel, suffers from an eating disorder. Jared, his best friend, is the God of cats (it's a LONG story) and he's gay. Nathan, the new guy, has moved more times than he can count in the last year because of the death of his sister.
And then there's Mikey, who is struggling with his anxiety and OCD tendencies: he's constantly counting and tapping, washing and re-washing his hands because he just doesn't believe he can get it right. He gets stuck in loops that only his friends can break him out of - this means the idea of going away to college is even more terrifying, because he worries that he'll get so stuck in loops that the only way out will be suicide.
The thing I really like about Patrick Ness is that he deals with each of these things. He manages to make you feel the sense of displacement that Nathan's struggling with, so it's impossible for you not to accept him and embrace him into the group. Jared's predicament as God of cats is hilarious - his grandmother was the God of cats and she decided to sleep with a human, so it's just something that he's accidentally inherited: he's a Chosen One, but through no fault of his own.
But best of all, he tackles Mel and Mikey's issues, not letting them fly under the radar as quirky personality traits of damage young people. Mel's eating was a lot worse a few years ago, when her heart stopped beating for a few minutes because of the strain on her body. This means that all of her friends are very careful and considerate when it comes to her eating, making sure not to over-react when she eats at a restaurant and purposefully not watching her because it makes her uncomfortable. In some of the YA I've read people with eating disorders are left to get on with it and deal with it on their own - I liked the fact that this group was more supportive and taking an active role in helping her.
The same can be said for Mikey. As I mentioned earlier, Jared is good at breaking him out of his loops and often pays close attention to him to ensure that he doesn't start doing any of his harmful behaviours. However, Mikey actually takes an active step in his recovery and speaks to his mother about attending therapy - he's not letting his anxiety control his life and he knows that he needs to do something about it, which is a very good thing for young people to read about.
The best part of the novel was undoubtedly chapter 16, the therapy session between Mikey and Dr. Luther, which was written in an utterly simplistic way - pure dialogue. There were no 'he said/she said' additions, just pure speech, and it makes Mikey a lot easier to relate to and it makes therapy seem a lot less terrifying than it does when authors carefully describe sterile rooms and scribbled notes.
There were two quotes that definitely stood out for me, and I genuinely believe if anyone is suffering from anxiety and reads 'The Rest of Us Just Live Here', they will feel a lot less alone in the world:
"I hate myself. I feel like an idiot saying it because, blah, blah, teen angst, boo hoo, but I do. I hate myself. Almost all the time. I try not to tell anyone because I don't want to burden them, but I feel like I'm falling farther and farther away from them. Like the well's getting deeper and I'm running out of energy to climb it and any minute now, any second, it's going to stop being worth even trying."
Then there was this wonderful response from Dr. Luther:
"Do you think a woman who gets ovarian cancer is morally responsible for it?"
"Do you think a child born with spina bifida or cerebral palsy is at fault for their condition?"
"No, but - "
"Then why in heaven's name are you responsible for your anxiety?" 
If you have anxiety, please read this book. If you know someone who suffers from anxiety, please recommend it to them, I think it might help!
If you're looking for a wonderful, heartfelt and inspirational YA story that shuns stereotypes and has a representative range of different types of teenage characters, look no further. I cannot stress this enough: this book is brilliant.

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