A Title by Any Other Name– Patrick Ness’s “The Rest of Us Just Live Here”

As YA fiction is not my forte, this will be a shorter post than most, and will probably just whet your appetite, or at least I hope so.  I do occasionally read YA things, and I have to say that until I actually started this one, I was expecting something completely different.  I mean, the very intriguing title, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, suggested to me a funny, smart, ironic modern book, with quips and quirks and characters to illustrate the unexpected turns and twists of life.  I didn’t get quite that, but the book is a valuable lesson in appreciating the unexpected, whether you are a reader or a character.

There are two different story lines in the book, one concerning a group of teenaged seniors in their final year in high school, who are suffering from various everyday traumas of growing up, from insecurity to anorexia, to coping with romantic problems.  And then, of course, as later emerges, there’s the one of them who’s coping with being one-fourth Immortal (the God of Cats, a nice choice to my cat-loving imagination).  The second story line, which appears in a short paragraph at the beginning of each chapter and which seems at first to have nothing much to do with the other more usual set of circumstances in the main plot line, concerns the dramatic supernatural misadventures of another group of students whom the first group call “the indie kids,” apparently kids like those one might see in B-list indie horror and suspense films.  All the main deaths happen to them, and while the more “normal” kids discuss the events when they become aware of them, they don’t actually aid or intervene in the indie kids’ affairs until the very end of the novel.  So, one assumes, the title “the rest of us just live here” is a sort of smart-ass rejoinder to the screenwriters who put so many unfortunate and adventurous teens in their films, a sort of denial that everything is fated to happen to people of that age.

In fact, the short paragraph at the beginning of each chapter which briefly summarizes what is happening to the indie kids is so brief and flatly stated that it reads like parody, and its back and forth between marauding Immortals and hapless indie kids would be a mere summary of some lost novel with no real believable interest, except for the union between the two groups of teens which comes about at the end, when they all graduate.  At that point, the threads of plot are all wound up, though new beginnings are also clearly in the offing, uncertain though the future is for all of them.  This is a fairly good growing-up novel, though the voice could use a little work, because the narrator comes across as a bit more mature than the usual high school senior, even one of superior intelligence and even one with OCD to cope with, his particular problem to sort out.

The counterpoint which is established between the illnesses and neuroses of the “normal” kids and the supernatural visitations upon the “indie” kids is actually quite nice and well-developed, by force of the fact that whereas in the ordinary supernatural book, the supernatural is a metaphor for the traumas of development into maturity and its attendant dangers, here the two are interwoven in a non-metaphorical way to show that “the rest of us” who “just live here” are not so immune from life-shattering events, even if they don’t view themselves as particularly dramatic.  There are also little flashes of humor here and there, both from the characters to each other and in such features as giving the one-fourth Immortal student dominion over cats.

There is an author’s note here as well, just as there was in the Duchovny book I reviewed last time, but this one is less self-oriented and more interesting, though the author’s references are also topical.  The book came about in connection with a Typhoon Haiyan fundraising effort, and we read that two of the character names, Henna’s and Jared’s, were taken from real people known to the author, who were a part of the fundraising history.  All in all, I think that though this is not Pulitzer Prize material, it’s a good book for the more mature teenager, not more mature in the sense of being able to withstand repeated doses of violence and horror without nightmares, but mature in the sense that he or she will be able to perceive the points the book is trying to make.  And that’s my post for today.

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4 Comments

Filed under Articles/reviews, What is literature for?

4 responses to “A Title by Any Other Name– Patrick Ness’s “The Rest of Us Just Live Here”

  1. I never get this clique culture in schools, although it has been overdone in films that make it a cliché these days. This does seem like a refreshing take on the usual formula though, it’s good that it all ties in and keeps the separate stories away from each other until the climax. Curiosly Ness’ name seems familiar but I haven’t heard of any of his other books.

    • I hadn’t heard of him at all, but I frankly found the title irresistible, even though it didn’t turn out to be what I thought. I have started to delve into my library websites again, so I’m on a literary excursion into the unknown and half-known. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • P.S. If you want to hear another great and thought-provoking title, how about seeing the espionage movie (which sounds great as well) “The Men Who Stare at Goats”? I’m going to get it if I can, just out of curiosity again.

  2. I read the book years ago when it first came out back in 2004, from what I remember it was interesting and a bit mental. I assume the film is very loosely based on the book if Hollywood is involved. The unknown and the peered at in twilight are always going to be a fun risk, I salute you for spreading your boundaries once again.

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