I tell myself all the time that I really don’t like YA books. So much emotion. So much angst. So many vampires. The book reviews often get me, however, and I’ll take a YA novel home, start to read, and then regret it. There are two – and now three – exceptions to this: Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boy series and E. K. Johnson’s The Story of Owen and its sequel (though I tweeted to E.K. that after reading the sequel I couldn’t read another book ever again (I was being dramatic)). Now I have to add Patrick Ness to that list. I’ve been meaning to read his Chaos Walking series for a long time, but just haven’t had the opportunity. I’m so terribly glad, though, that I picked up his latest book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
The main part of this story is about four teens looking forward to the prom, graduation, and the rest of their lives. They’ve got problems – serious ones, actually. Mel is anorexic and nearly died from not eating. Her brother Mike suffers from severe anxiety and OCD. And Jared is the grandson of a god. God of felines, actually. Henna’s parents are missionaries and expect her to go a war zone with them during the coming summer. Mel and Mike’s mother is constantly running for political office and kind of ignores them. Meantime, their dad is an alcoholic. Oh, and the world is being invaded by immortals who are trying to take over Earth through “indie” kids, zombie deer, and zombie police officers. In some ways, it’s all typical fodder for YA. But the indie kid stuff is told in the background. It could have been the main story, but it’s so not. Mel and her friends know it’s happening-- they hear about indie kids dying every day and are worried -- but that’s not their story. I think Ness is poking fun at a great deal of the paranormal YA lit out there.
It’s the touchingly tender way that he deals with Mel and Mike’s troubles that really get me. And the funny way he deals with them too. Every generation, in this world, anyway, has dealt with soul eaters and zombies and vampires. Teens might think that the bad stuff only happens to them, but everyone has gone through it. So, I kind of loved it when Mike’s therapist says to him, "We had armies of the undead when I was your age. It was pretty awful and scary, but it was confined, kept quiet, involving a fairly small group of people while the adult world looked on obliviously." And doesn’t that really sum up how teens think?
This novel is not for every teen. The humor and sarcasm are subtle. The pain and problems of Mel and Mike, especially, are real and emotional. But they are handled brilliantly.