This week Ella Walker assesses The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Is it worthy of a permanent place on her shelf?
Last month I turned 27, but I still love young adult fiction. Not the soppy stuff (looking at you John Green, eugh), but the angry, dystopian stuff – and yes, admittedly, the odd trashy one, most recently Sunkissed by Jenny McLachlan, which, if you ignore the cornea-shredding hot pink cover, is actually quite a good read. Oh, and all of the Louise Rennison books (notably, Knocked Out By My Nunga-Nungas). Silly, but also very funny.
The Hunger Games books are in constant rotation, The Maze Runner was alright, the Twilight books are well thumbed (don’t mention the films), and I am STILL waiting for UK booksellers to get a grip and stock the Quarantine series by Lex Thomas (it’s fantastic).
You see, with YA, the writing has to be smarter, more direct, brighter, louder, spiky and real, but also rippling with darkness, and then there still has to be enough frisson-y moments (aka classic love triangles) to keep hormones thoroughly entertained.
It’s a gauntlet for authors, and in The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness absolutely nails it.
“The book’s fat with poking fun at all the usual dystopian teen drama tropes so sometimes it reads like the cuttings floor of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer editing suite. But that’s no bad thing; who doesn’t love Buffy?”
How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable around each other?
Format-wise, Ness layers up two stories: an ironic ‘save the world’ plot where quirky indie kids race along on the sidelines, rescuing humanity from certain destruction. This is dealt with at the beginning of each chapter via a small chunk of prose, jumping with knowing irony, and then Ness gets on with the meat of it: Mikey and his friends, a collection of anxious misfits who aren’t all that special and definitely won’t be snatching the planet from the jaws of oblivion.
Once you’ve worked out that the classic underdog-becomes-hero plot has been inverted, so actually you’re following the underdogs struggling with school and life stuff while the other underdogs (with better hair) get on with extricating the world from supernatural catastrophe, you’ll be away.
How would you describe it behind its back?
Magnificent, touching, searing – if a little bit silly at times. Mikey’s best friend Jared is, in all seriousness, the God of cats… and the book’s fat with poking fun at all the usual dystopian teen drama tropes – vampires, portals, celestial powers – so sometimes it reads like the cuttings floor of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer editing suite. But that’s no bad thing; who doesn’t love Buffy?
No, but it did make me smile – a lot, which in fact, if you think about it, is an even stranger look while reading on the train than the odd outburst of laughter.
You’ve had a nightmare time. Would it provide the understanding to get you through/soak up your tears?
Although there are supernatural goings on happening in the background – including stampeding deer, columns of blue light and indie kids going missing, which, by the way, all the adults are ignoring – it’s fattened with real stuff. Mikey and his friends are having to worry about the end of the world, when they’ve already got graduation, prom, anxiety, eating disorders, friendship, sex and emotionally absent parents to contend with. It ticks all the angsty boxes, but does so with lightness and perspective. It feels thoroughly true, despite the rampaging deer.
Would you let it meet your other friends?
Yes, but really they ought to pop it straight on the national curriculum for all 12-year-olds so they are more prepared for the messiness of crossing over the border into teendom.
How would it describe your commitment levels – did you put the effort in?
Oh yes. The great thing about most young adult fiction? You can get through it as quickly as you’d scoff a brownie (i.e. fast). In this case, I read it on a Sunday evening in one sitting. Well, actually, I was lying on the lounge floor because I was so hooked, I kept forgetting to get up and sit back on the sofa.
Could you take it on holiday with you, without getting severely hacked off after three days?
See above; I’d have finished it and been basking in an all-is-now-right-with-the-world glow before the cabin crew started demonstrating how to use the inflatable slide.
If you suddenly stumbled across it after several years of lost contact, do you reckon you would:
a) Think of it fondly but accept you’d both moved on (keep but don’t read)
b) Pick up exactly where you left off (reread every few years)
c) Ditch it, obviously you were never really friends
A solid b), firstly because it’s a whippet of a page-turner, and secondly because, true to Ness’ teen-drama tongue poking, there ain’t going to be two more instalments in a trilogy to look forward to (sob).
Next month Ella will be reading Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.2721 Views
Ella Walker is an entertainment writer and book blogger living in Cambridge. She likes swimming in the sea and eating biscuits. Preferably at the same time.