Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I find it very hard to believe that this book was written by the same guy who wrote The Knife of Never Letting Go. Not only because the books have totally different settings and genres - this one being set in the modern day and straddling lines between contemporary YA, magical realism, and paranormal, as opposed to Knife, but The Rest of Us proved impenetrable.

Sure, I get that it's supposed to parody YA paranormal by showing the real-world things happening to real-world people who would otherwise exist in the background of these stories, and hey, points for not tumbling into full-on Pretentious John Green Mode, philosophizing about stuff that teenagers should never philosophize about. (For the most part, the philosophizing that I saw in the first fifty pages I read dealt with love and mental disorders.) But the problem for me is that we're given tiny blurbs at the start of each chapter about what the "indie-kid" heroes (who are all pretty much comical Mary Sues, with their increasingly oddball names and increasingly dramatic issues), and then we see nothing about what "save the world" adventures we're doing. I get that it's done for satirical effect, but it's not making me laugh. Instead, it makes me feel nothing but a sharp disconnect between the cast of real people populating this book and the heroes fighting to save the world behind the scenes. It's so distracting, and it interfered with my reading so badly that I felt forced to DNF the book.

Don't get me wrong, I do get what Ness is going for. I get that he's affectionately poking fun at YA lit tropes. I get that he's giving us characters with real-life dramas and issues that some readers can, no doubt, relate to. The narrator's got OCD, his sister has bulimia, his best friend is gay...and, somehow, seems to have magical powers of his own. That got me really confused - I thought these characters were supposed to be the "normals" in a Night Vale-esque town where the school blowing up in a fight against ghouls or whatever is treated like a more mundane disaster than it really was. So then why is Jared "three quarters Jewish, one quarter God?" I'm still scratching my head over that, largely because, again, I didn't finish this book.

Also, points to Ness for diversity. The aforementioned mental illnesses, Henna being biracial, and Jared's LGBTQ status all qualify. (On the subject of Jared, Mikey casually mentions at one point having "done stuff" with Jared before. This got me thinking about how one of my readers really ships a couple of my characters - one a straight boy, one a bi boy - and how I've considered rewriting the story so that they've had their own history of "doing stuff," and yet the straight boy still identifies as such.)

But again, the disconnect between the "indie kids" and the normal kids proved too much of an obstacle for me in reading The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Not only that, but I feel that in highlighting this disconnect, Ness effectively dehumanizes the "indie kids," implying that even if they do have feelings or dramas or issues, they're not important because their primary responsibility is saving the world. It certainly doesn't help that, because these "indie kids" aren't the primary characters in Ness' book, they're given next to no depth. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Amazing Spider-Man movies, of which I'm huge fans (which is also why I hate the movie Birdman for its contemptuous view of superheroes), take exactly the opposite approach. These characters are humanized because they have personalities and feelings, even if said feelings often have to take a backseat to the action. (Except, for instance, in Civil War, or, again, The Amazing Spider-Man.) Those superhero movies are such big influences on my own writing as a result. I follow their examples when crafting my characters, giving them slice-of-life moments in between the action - and I parody the "chosen one" trope in my own way, deliberately making them artificially engineered chosen ones (among many other Amazing Spider-Man references.)

It may just be my own natural allergy to contemporary YA, and my own belief that speculative fiction is more original and more lifelike, but I feel like I have no choice but to DNF this book for now. At least the contemporary characters in this book weren't people I couldn't care about. It wasn't like a John Green book, where the characters would sacrifice authenticity for an endless intellectual pissing contest. Maybe someday, I'll get back to this story, if only for Mikey's and Jared's and Mel's sakes.

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