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

Website Culture Editor Julia Mitchell reviews the latest offering from the critically acclaimed author of the Chaos Walking trilogy: The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

If you spend any time lurking in the more bookish corners of the internet, you’ll have seen the massive hype that’s been building for the release of Patrick Ness’ latest novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. It’s everywhere. And as a huge fan of Ness’ previous work I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his newest book, which turned out to be far more than ‘just another Young Adult novel’.

“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 worshiped by mountain lions.”

The cover image of the UK edition (oooh!)

I think it’s pretty clear from the synopsis why this book promises to be such a compelling read. While most current Young Adult titles tend to follow a protagonist that’s the hero of the story – think Katniss from the The Hunger Games or Thomas from The Maze RunnerThe Rest of Us Just Live Here explores the flipside of a usual YA novel, featuring a group of pretty ‘ordinary’ teenagers who just want to live their lives amid the chaos. It’s a unique concept, and Ness has managed to pull it off brilliantly.

I really liked how each chapter began with a short italic paragraph describing what the ‘chosen ones’ (also known as the indie kids) were up to. This is what would usually be the book’s main storyline, but summarised into just one paragraph. After getting that out of the way, the book then returned to its main narrative following this ‘ordinary’ group of teenagers and the lives that they were living. This worked well in emphasising the differences between the two co-existing stories, and gave a bit of background to ‘the blue lights and the death’ that Mikey and his friends encountered throughout the book. It often felt quite difficult to keep up with what the indie kids were up to from these short bites of text, but to be honest, that kind of felt like the point. In this book, they just weren’t central to the story.

Patrick Ness has always been brilliant at conveying emotion, and this latest book is no exception. Over the course of the novel I learnt about the ups and downs of Mikey’s friendships, family relationships and love life as he approached the end of his senior year of high school. As you would expect, the book often covered some difficult topics, and each were discussed in a delicate but powerful manner. For example, it’s clear early on in the book that Mikey was a sufferer of OCD, and there’s a brilliant scene set in his therapist’s office where his illness was discussed explicitly, literally spelling out that a mental illness is just as serious and ‘real’ as any physical illness. Further difficult topics such as the role of medication as a treatment for mental illness was also discussed, as well as his sister’s previous battle with anorexia and his father’s alcoholism. It’s brave books like these that are helping to break the stigma associated with mental health problems, and I was thrilled that the topic was one of the main themes in the book. Just make sure that you tread carefully if you tend to feel triggered by discussions such as these.

As someone who has read a lot of Young Adult titles, I also really appreciated this book’s tongue in cheek humour that ripped into the stereotypical features of the generic YA novel. This was often found in the short passages that described the indie kids, where Ness described their ridiculous love triangles and overdramatic declarations of love, among other typical YA clichés. This humour filtered through into the rest of the novel as well, with Mikey making fun of the indie kids’ throughout the book.

I really enjoyed reading The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Yes, it is another one of those high school coming-of-age novels, but this time coming from a fresh perspective. Powerful, beautifully written and laced with humour, this is a definite must-read for any fan of YA fiction – particularly those that fancy something a little bit different.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is published by Walker Books and on sale from 27 August at £10.99. Find out more information about the book on its Goodreads page here.

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