What a pleasant surprise this, my first Patrick Ness book, turned out to be.
"The Rest Of Us Just Live Here" made it onto my TBR pile on the basis of a publisher's summary that pitched it as a fun YA novel looking at the people who went to the same Highschool as the kids who stop the hellmouth from opening or end the zombie plague or whatever this year's route to the apocalypse is but who are more concerned with making it to graduation and taking the person of their dreams to the Prom.
It actually does cover all that stuff, but where I'd expected something light, quirky and insouciant, filled within in jokes and Urban Fantasy references, I got something that went much deeper than that, getting beneath the skin of what it means to be at that point in your life where you're not yet independent, not entirely sure of who you are, not understood by your parents, understand your parents too well to expect much from them and where the most important people in your life are the friends you've chosen and your sister because, well, you're all the family either of you really have.
The conceit the book is built on is a lot of fun. Each chapter starts with a short summary of what the chapter would be about if it was a conventional YA Urban Fantasy novel. Here's the one that opens the book:
"Chapter The First in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent vessel and, after being chased by her through the woods, Indykid Finn meets his final fate"
After that kind of summary, the focus moves on to four friends and the things that they're doing while the Indykids, who all have names like Finn or Satchel, fight and sometimes die trying to save the world.
The story is told from the point of view of Mikey, a boy who is about to graduate high school, who is best friends with a kind and charismatic guy who has a couple of secrets that set him apart but which serve to enhance his charisma and kindness by adding in a charming humility, Henna who Mikie loves but can't work up the courage to tell her so, and Mikie's sister, Mel, who is a year older than him but is repeating a year and so will graduate at the same time and who is also best friends with Henna.
What I loved most about this book was that it avoided the clichés around coming of age and presented young people I could believe in and root for and parents I could recognise and flinch at without demonising them. Mikey's a nice guy but he gets jealous and snarky and sulks sometimes and doesn't always know why he feels the way he does or does the things he does. His relationship with his sister, how he helps her with her problems and how she helps him, was touching and credible.
As the Indykid's apocalypse unfolds, the four friends are directly affected and it turns out that at least one of them could have been in the Indykid set. The friends are also affected by what their parents are up to, two of whom are local politicians, running in opposition to one another in an election. The Indykids and the adults provide an environment over which the four friends have no control but the centre of the story remains the relationship they have with each other and the choices that they make.
I found myself completely immersed in the lives of these people and caring what happened to them. I never felt that my emotions where being manipulated to get a stock response. I felt as if i was being invited to look closely and really let myself see what was going on. To set aside the threat of the end of the world and the aggression and spin of local politics and look at four young people trying to live their lives well, even when nothing is going right.
I'll be back for more Patrick Ness.
I recommend the audiobook version of "The Rest Of Us Just Live Here" which is performed perfectly by James Fouhey. Click on the SoundCloud link to hear a sample.