Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is a YA novel set in a version of the US where a series of Chosen Ones have to avert apocalypses on a regular basis. The main characters, however, are relatively ordinary bystanders, trying to get on with their lives in a crazy world.

What if you aren't the Chosen One? The one who's supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you're like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week's end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

This was an excellent book. Both funny and poignant, it gently mocked the teenagers-chosen-to-save-the-world subgenre, while giving us well-developed characters to care about. At the start of every chapter was a short paragraph describing what was happening with the world-saving kids, and then the rest of the chapter would be about our main characters and their relatively mundane problems.

The narrator is Mikey, who is mostly concerned about the normal teenager things: asking out the girl he likes, his sister's health problems and graduating before someone blows up the high school. He also has OCD and anxiety, partially brought on because of his mother's political career, and his older sister is a recovering anorexic. The two older siblings also spend a lot of time trying to protect their much younger sister from their mother's career, their alcoholic father and whatever is going bump in the night.

The best thing about this book is its portrayal of mental illness, especially OCD. Mikey's symptoms are a seamless backdrop to his life, except when they're not and they get more serious and seriously disruptive. We watch Mikey get progressively worse as the novel progresses and then we see him ask for help. I haven't read many books with positive portrayals of therapy and I can't think of any with positive portrayals of taking medication for a mental illness. But The Rest of Us Just Live Here does all of this.

There were also some great portrayals of gay teens — Mikey's best friend is gay — but I don't want to go into too much detail there because spoilers.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here wasn't actually as funny as I was expecting/hoping it would be, but the emotional depth made up for it. As the as the background apocalypse goes, it caused me to think about Buffy a lot while reading. There aren't actually a huge number of direct parallels with Buffy — the most obvious being that Buffy is indeed of the subgenre being parodied — but the idea put me in mind of that episode where Xander has his own little adventure while the rest of the gang save the world ("The Zeppo"). Not that Mikey or any of his friends were ever in with the world-saving crowd (and they don't have any adventures with larcenous zombies), but it's the same feeling of background doom permeated The Rest of Us Just Live Here. I suspect there are a lot more references to more recent YA books (and certainly to fashionable tropes) than there are to a twenty year old TV show.

The important thing, however, is that The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a pretty great book. It's not as hilarious as I expected, but it's very entertaining and the portrayal of mental illness is excellent. It's an entertaining critique of the kind of universe where the world has to be saved from the vantage point of a small town over and over again. I highly recommend it to fans of YA spec fic books, fans of Buffy and just fans of spec fic generally.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2015, Harper Teen (US edition)
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss