Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Carnegie Shadowing 2016 review - The rest of us just live here

Patrick Ness’s ‘The Rest of us Just Live here’ has the feel of those very familiar novels very popular just now, where teenagers tackle immortal foes, vampires or paranormal beings threatening to take over the world - and win against impossible odds.

Yes, all of that happens in this story. 

Only, the hero of this story is not that guy. He’s the guy who just wants to get a girlfriend and, if possible, graduate before the school gets blown up again. Because all of that hero-stuff is happening, just not to him.

Siblings Mikey and Melissa have got plenty of problems. Their alcoholic dad stole a ton of money and avoided jail, but it means the family will be repaying the debt forever and family tensions are high. 

Their mother has rolled up her sleeves and has ploughed all her energies into supporting her beliefs that she can change the world in her own adult way and is going for a political career and everyone is pretty tough on Mum for this choice.

It means there is no adult really steering the family and Melissa’s eating disorder got so she would have died. And Mikey has anxiety problems and OCD so bad sometimes it takes the muscle of his best-friend, Jared, to physically get him to stop. 

So how will he cope when they all graduate and Mikey will be on his own at college? This is what worries our hero. But for now, though, Mikey is also focused on whether his feelings are returned by long-time best friend, Henna. 

Oh, and What is happening with the zombie deer? What about the car crash and are the police really doing nothing because they have all been taken over by a mysterious blue light?  Should our hero get involved? Or is that really not his story? 

The whole ‘war with the immortals' story is confined mostly to snippets in a chapter heading, until the action of those kids and the 'rest of us' begins to collide.

The tantalising chapter headings are a smart and sometimes very funny way to keep us up to date with the huge battles the cool ‘indie’ kids are waging, while everyone else just gets on fretting about parties, their love lives and whether they will get to the college they want. I loved the back-story in chapter headings device. 

The end-of-the-world plot never quite wrestles the emotional heart of the story, and the juxtaposition of the weird and the ordinary works really well. It is a sly satire on some of the more predictable teen stories around (everyone is in love with the heroine, but which of them is her true love and how will it be revealed?).

The story has a wide character list, a good bunch of personalities, there is teenage angst as well as the bonkers other-world sub-plot. 

Patrick Ness is a quality writer and he deftly treads a fine line.

It’s well-observed, whether poking sly fun at all those over-the-top-brilliant kids in so many novels, but mostly what it does well is in just saying that ordinary teenagers can have interesting stories too. Because just dealing with real life sometimes takes heroic action, even if you are never called upon to be part of the gang that saves the world, it doesn't mean you have to be a bystander, that you are not grappling with serious things and your victories are not worth celebrating.

We all have our own stories – and that real life is sometimes just about enough for anyone to deal with and a much more messy journey where we really can't see which are the bad guys.

Loved this book. So clever, funny and compassionate. And weird. All of my favourite things.

Will it win? Possibly not going to be the children's shadowing favourite. It's pretty clever and complicated and it's a fine line to tread to not be too complicated. But Patrick Ness's writing is both so original and very fine he has to be in with a shout to take the Medal again.

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