Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

RestofUsCover.jpg

Not everyone has to be the Chosen One. Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing the things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes no sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway.

I was hooked as soon as I read the title, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Granted, I was already a fan of Patrick Ness after reading The Knife of Letting Go and A Monster Calls (I didn’t include my review of A Monster Calls on my blog, but you can find it on my Goodreads page). The premise of The Rest of Us Just Live Here feels like a homage to the Buffyverse, as it centres around a group of teenage friends who are just trying to survive high school, while supernatural forces battle with the Chosen Ones, aka the indie kids.

Each chapter opens with a brief summary of the goings on of the indie kids and the supernatural elements. The summaries are hilarious (so many hipsters named Finn!), and there are moments when the supernatural elements spill out into the main story, including this gem:

‘Which is when one of the indie kids comes running out of the treeline, his old-timey jacket flapping out behind him. He pushes his fashionably black-rimmed glasses back on his nose and runs past about twenty feet from where we’re all tumbled together. He doesn’t see us – the indie kids never really see us, not even when we’re sitting next to them in class – just crosses the Field and disappears into the opposite treeline, which we all know only leads to deeper forest.
There’s a silent few seconds where we all exchange wtf glances and then a young girl glowing with her own light comes running out of the woods from where the indie kids came. She doesn’t see us either, though she’s so bright we all have to shade our eyes, and then she disappears into the second treeline, too.’

While there are many comedic moments surrounding the battle between the indie kids and the supernatural forces, The Rest of Us Just Live Here also examines the division between teens and adults, which is attributed to the teens being the only ones caught up (whether directly or as witnesses to) the supernatural war. The possibility is raised that adults rationalise the supernatural occurrences away as natural disasters in order to downplay the severity of the situation. It is also suggested that perhaps the adults experienced or witnessed supernatural phenomena as teens, but they have forgotten what it was like to be teenagers. The (possibly willing) ignorance adults have to the teen experience has detrimental effects on the teen characters. What is most heartbreaking is that the damage caused to the 17-year-old narrator, Mikey, and his 18-year-old sister, Mel, is not as a direct result of the paranormal, but of the (direct or indirect) negligence shown by their parents. At no point does the presence of the mental illnesses depicted in the novel feel as a plot device, as each illness is explored and presented in a thoughtful and earnest manner.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a highly emotionally evocative read, due, in no small part, to the diverse range of characters and their multifaceted relationship. Arguably, the most poignant relationship is Mikey and his sister, Mel. Their relationship is beautifully understated despite the high stakes they face, through the way in which they observe and react to one another. And while they both have their own romantic interests and personal battles, their relationship is never at risk of fading away to a minor footnote in the novel.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a thrilling, hilarious, poignant and heartbreaking read. Patrick Ness is a masterful storyteller.

starstarstarstarstar

Patrick Ness and Jesse Andrews will be appearing in conversation with C.S Pacat at the Athenaeum Theatre on Monday, May 7, as part of the Mayhem series by The Wheeler Centre. Tickets are still available. I’ll be live-tweeting the event.

Review: ‘Small Spaces’ by Sarah Epstein

SmallSpaces

I know things aren’t right with me – conjuring up Sparrow today is evidence of that. The worst thing I could do is drag anyone else into my mess, least of all the Fishers. I know I should talk to my parents. I know I need to arrange a session with Dr Ingrid now instead of waiting until June.
I also know I won’t do any of those things.
Instead, I’ll try to figure out how to get a mute girl to talk.

When Natasha Carmody was eight years old she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure six-year-old Mallory Fisher away at a carnival. Neither Natasha’s family nor the police believed her, and when Mallory was found seven days later she was mute from the trauma. The Fisher family moved away, and with the help of her stern mother, as well as regular visits to a child psychiatrist, Tash accepted that Sparrow wasn’t real.

Now seventeen, Tash hopes to enter her final year of schooling without incident, so that her parents will see that she is capable of moving away from the seaside town of Port Bellamy, to the city to attend university. Standing in the way of her goal is Rachael, her beautiful and popular former-friend, who was privy to Tash’s childhood secrets. As the final year of school approaches, Tash thinks her greatest fear is for Rachael to use Tash’s secrets as leverage to humiliate and bully her at school. But, the Fisher family return to Port Bellamy, and so does Sparrow. Tash realises that Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about the dark secret that connects them. Does the gruesome Sparrow exist? Is Tash going mad? Is Tash the gruesome one?

Small Spaces is a stunning, gut-wrenching thriller debut by Sarah Epstein. The first person narrative alternates between ‘now’ and ‘then’ chapters, with the ‘then’ chapters containing transcripts from psychiatrist sessions, as well as newspaper clippings. The novel is cleverly structured, as alternating between past and present not only adds to the suspense of drip-feeding the events surrounding the carnival, but is also atmospheric as it gives a sense of Tash’s increasing anxiety as she struggles to reconcile the past with the present.

A great cast of characters offer moments of tenderness and humour, courtesy of meticulously yet effortlessly crafted character traits and history. Tash is uncomfortable in her own skin, as she muses ‘my haircut is safe, my freckles are obvious and the only hip piece of clothing I own is a vintage E.T t-shirt I found in an op shop. And I don’t even wear it in public because I’m not cool enough to pull it off’. There is an element of tension underlying each of the relationships, ensuring suspicion is maintained throughout. Sadie is Tash’s fearless protector, but has a rebellious streak and confidence that far exceeds Tash’s. Even when they were friends, Tash was intimidated by Rachael, a pretty girl with trendy clothes and plane trips to her grandparents’ house in North Korea. While Tash’s nine year-old brother Tim only plays a minor role in the book, his impact is profound. He is largely oblivious to the family politics, and was too young to remember the events of the carnival. As such, he has been afforded the innocent and carefree childhood Tash never had, which makes Tash protective of him.

Small Spaces is a thrilling read with unrelenting suspense. I couldn’t put it down.

starstarstarstarstar

With thanks to Walker Books for providing an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Small Spaces will be published on 01 April.

Review: Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell

UntidyTowns

 

I ran away on a Tuesday afternoon in late March. Six pm and I was headed south-west in a train that smelled stale. I had put two hours and however many kilometres behind me. Walking the length of the carriage and back again to stretch my legs, I lurched and pitched with and against the movements of the train. I’d done it now. Right decision. Wrong decision. My decision.

 

Set in the fictional country town of Emyvale, Untidy Towns is a contemporary novel narrated by Adelaide, a seventeen year old who is sick of living her life on other people’s terms. Adelaide drops out of the prestigious school she had been attending under a scholarship and heads back to her family in Emyvale to regroup, to breathe, and to try to figure out what she wants from her own life. Her mother sends Addie to work for her grandad at the Emyvale Historical Society. Addie starts hanging out with Jarrod, and realises he is just as stuck as she is. Addie realises she has to play an active role in her own life in order to find purpose and happiness.

Untidy Towns is a beautifully written novel about family, friendships and forging your own path to happiness. Unsure of where her future lies, Addie finds herself taking stock of her own life. Leaving her prestigious school and returning to the town in which she grew up provides Addie with the opportunity to look at her town, family and friends through fresh eyes. The novel is character-driven, and is therefore reliant on believable and intriguing characters to move the story forward. There is no one single antagonist standing in Adelaide’s way, just as there is no champion waiting to rescue her. Kate O’Donnell has created a collection of endearing and multifaceted characters who propel Addie to take charge of her own life, including her supportive mother who offers a balance of reassurance and authority without ever seeming too controlling, and Adelaide’s extroverted private school friend Mia, whose social confidence compliments Addie’s introverted tendencies but also arguably holds Addie back from becoming an active participant in her own life.

The pacing of Untidy Towns beautifully compliments the major theme of the book of slowing down and taking stock. The novel doesn’t seek to provide answers, but reads as more of an acknowledgement of the intense amount of stress that teens endure during their final year of schooling and the accompanying weight of expectation of a future they are expected to have perfectly mapped out. If this book was fast-paced and filled with plot twists, then it would be contradicting its own message of slowing down and finding happiness in the here and now. The pacing and the structure beautifully aligns with its message – something I only fully appreciated once I finished reading it.

starstarstarstarstar