Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

I have recently completed my first five-star read of the year, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness! After looking at reviews of this book, I have found that it is extremely polarizing. It seems like people either REALLY enjoy this book or they really, really do not. Since I fell into the camp of REALLY enjoying this book, I thought I would take a moment to sit down and talk a bit about why I like it so much! This review does not contain spoilers, but it does go into detail about character identity so if that's something you'd rather be surprised by, read at your own risk!

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a Young Adult novel based in a small town in Washington where both super-hero-esque people (called the "indie kids") and regular people live side-by-side. Unlike what you would normally expect in a setting like this, the focus is not on the indie kids but on the characters that do not have super powers and how the adventures that the indie kids get themselves into impact the town. This is an extremely interesting take on the concept of superheroes and magical world colliding with more realistic world.

We follow four main characters - Mike (our narrator), Mel, Henna, and Jared - on their final weeks leading up to their high school graduation, a pretty typical time frame for a YA novel. In these final weeks, strange things start happening in the town that the indie kids begin to fight against, and though our main characters are never quite sure what is going on, we are presented with brief vignettes of the indie kids' side of the story at the beginning of each chapter so we're always just one step ahead of our main cast.

Each one of our main characters has a complex background which I adored. True to life, these teens are going through a major life change and with it, are also grappling with figuring themselves out both within their relationships and as individuals. While the plot of this book isn't the strongest in the world, this book is extremely character-driven and as a result makes it very easy to get attached to the main cast. The relationships between our main cast as well were also relationships that I would find realistic for high school seniors who have been friends for most of their young adult lives. They care about each other deeply, but still get in stupid fights, can sometimes jealous of one another, and are very protective of one another. I can definitely see my own high school friendships and relationships reflected in the relationships presented in this novel.

This book also takes an extremely positive stance on therapy and taking care of ones own mental health which I appreciate SO MUCH in YA literature. Mike suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and Mel suffers from anorexia. Both characters find great benefit in going to therapy and even (gasp) taking medication for their mental illnesses. This is not something that you see in YA almost ever and the fact that Patrick Ness wrote this into these characters' stories made me so happy. We even have a scene where Mike is in therapy and has an extremely positive (though not to the point of being unrealistic) conversation with his therapist which is so important for young adult readers to see. Mental illness and treatment for mental illness needs to be normalized, especially for the target age group of YA literature.

The way Patrick Ness discusses diversity in his characters is extremely positive and normalized as well. Jared is a gay man and while he does face some struggles with his sexuality, he's not made the token gay friend. Henna, Mike's main love interest, is a black woman who again, is not tokenized and is written as a (gasp) real person and not a device to check off the diversity box. There's even some discussion of Mike being unsure of his own sexual identity and I love the fact that he never draws a conclusion on what his sexuality might be. I don't think I've even seen a character in a YA novel explore that side of their identity and not draw a conclusion on it and it just seemed so real to me. Some people never come to a conclusion on their sexuality (and sometimes that inconclusiveness IS their conclusion), so I'd imagine that part of Mike was very much so appreciated by readers who identify similarly.

Overall, I couldn't find a negative thing to say about this book. It's a YA novel, meaning it's going to be trope-y, but often these tropes are made fun of in the text which I also appreciated. This is the type of YA I'd like to see more of. I wish more authors would do what Patrick Ness did in this book and be real with their audience, introduce complex topics in a normalized way, and not be afraid to be honest. I really appreciated this book, and I highly encourage you to pick it up if you're looking for something that's light and a bit of a change of pace from your run-of-the-mill YA.

Overall I gave this book...
5/5 Stars!

Have you read The Rest of Us Just Live Here? If so, what did you think?
Let me know in the comments!

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