Tuesday, December 29, 2015

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

First caveat: I love (love love love) Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy. It is my favorite YA series of all time. I would love to reread it, but I'd cry too much.

See my reviews:
- The Knife of Never Letting Go
- The Ask and the Answer
- Monsters of Men

Moving on...

Some friends, my husband, and I recently finished watching the entire run of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a series I really enjoyed as a teenager, and it was even more fun to re-watch it. Occasionally, while Buffy and the "Scooby gang" were still in high school, we wondered about what parent would enroll their child at Sunnydale High School. I mean, students were dying constantly. And the school was almost always under attack by some demon or another. And where were the police in all this? Did they just completely ignore it so a 16-year-old with a stake could take care of it?

Clearly Ness wondered the same, and thus The Rest of Us Just Live Here was born. The Rest is about the peripheral students in all those YA fantasy series--what happens to them while the Chosen One is battling the Big Evil?

It's a fun idea, but one that doesn't quite work out. Though The Rest is set up as a satire of the YA fantasy genre, the satire is so gentle (even when it appears, which isn't often), that the cliches of the genre are hardly criticized. Sure, there's a side comment about the "Chosen Ones" never using the Internet or observations about how the police never believe the students' stories about strange things happening (even though vampires destroyed the town, like, a month ago!)... But, otherwise, Ness is more interested in his own characters' stories. Which is fine, but it means the whole premise feels somewhat insignificant.

What Ness is interesting in exploring is his protagonist Mikey and his three best friends: his sister Mel, his friend Jared, and his unrequited crush Henna. But unlike in Ness' other books, these characters felt cliche (ironic, considering the "satire" of the novel). Mikey is OCD and too afraid to tell Henna his feelings; his dad's an alcoholic; his state senator-mom is too self-involved to notice him. Mel is a recovering anorexic. Jared is gay but not really out. Henna is constrained but her strict parents. All of these can be real teenage issues, but they felt excessively heaped on. Even Mikey's "I'm cool with my BFF being gay" attitude--something I'm completely thrilled to see--just felt like a repeat (but perhaps that's because I read and loved Grasshopper Jungle, which had a similar relationship). There's some nice commentary about the nature of friendships, and I felt Ness did an especially good job of capturing the mindset of someone with severe anxiety, but otherwise it was too neat and too expected. The kids were too good to each other; everything worked out too well in the end.

It was a quick read, but it probably won't read as fresh to people who've read a good deal of YA fantasy.

[A side note--everyone refers to the "kids who are always involved in the strange stuff happening" as "indie kids," (they all have uber-hipster names like Finn and Satchel), but the term always felt wrong to me, so it became distracting.]

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