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: Whisper by Lynette Noni

 

whisper

They call me “Jane Doe.”

              They say it’s because I won’t tell them my real name, that they were forced to allocate me a generic ID. The name is ironic, since there’s nothing generic about me.

              But they don’t know that.

              They could have given me any name, but there’s a reason they chose “Jane Doe.” I hear the whispers. They think of me as little more than an unidentifiable, breathing corpse. That’s how they treat me. They prod, they poke, they badger and tweak. All of them want to coax a response from me. But their efforts are in vain.

             

Whisper by Lynette Noni is narrated by Subject Six-Eight-Four, a girl with monstrous capabilities who has survived internment at an underground compound known as Lengard, for two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes. Her internment has consisted of the same mind-numbing routine psych evaluations, strength and endurance training and experimental therapy. She believes survival is only possible by maintaining her silence and not trusting any of the Lengard personnel. But, Director Maverick Falon informs her that if she doesn’t comply, she will be eliminated from the program, and given the program is top secret, she knows she will be killed if she doesn’t obey. She is transferred into the care of the golden-haired Landon Ward, whose informal tone and dimpled cheeks causes her to consider the possibility that not everyone at Lengard is as bad as she thinks they are. But, the more she learns about Lengard, the closer she comes to learning its secrets, secrets that could destroy the world if she doesn’t speak out, but if she does speak, she might destroy the world anyway.

When I first heard about Whisper at the 2018 YA Showcase it went straight to my top ten most anticipated YA reads of 2018. I love speculative fiction, and the mention of secret compounds, government conspiracy, and a potential female anti-hero or villain origin story made me all kinds of giddy. I am all for the reluctant imperfect protagonist, who has to struggle to earn her gift (or curse). “Jane” is harbouring a secret so deadly, she only has to utter a word to bring about the destruction of the world. She is wilfully held at Lengard, as she knows she can’t hurt anyone if she is locked away. But she is mistrusting of her wardens, as believes they are either underestimating or seeking to exploit her explosive potential.

At the outset, Jane is apathetic towards her own existence, as she describes her daily routine and the limited people who attempt to interact with her with some degree of detachment. The detachment at times proves jarring, as Vanik embodies the dark side of Lengard, as she describes her “experimental therapy” sessions as two hours of hell where he pushes her to the point of brain damage. Given Jane says that nothing could be worse than Vanik’s experiments, it’s strange that Jane never offers any detail about what takes place during the session. If Jane was apathetic to her existence, then wouldn’t she be able to provide some detail about the session? Or, if this was one part of the day that tore her out of her apathy (as evident by Jane mentioning her fear of her sessions) then would it not be possible that she would relive fragments of the session through nightmares or anxiety-driven thought? Vanik’s role at Lengard made it hard for me to hope for any positive relationship with Falon, Ward or any of the other Lengard staff, as given the regularity of her sessions with Vanik over a two-year period, and the lack of narrative to suggest there was any issue with his sessions, I could only assume the other staff were complicit in the experiments Jane endured, despite any voice of disapproval. The lack of narrative concerning her sessions with Vanik sat at odds with the impact these sessions had on everyone within the compound. This made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief and allow myself to become immersed in the story.

Despite my misgivings about the way Vanik’s sessions were presented, Whisper was still an enjoyable read. While it is the first of a trilogy, Whisper still works as a standalone book, as it answers many of the questions it sets up. There are some great characters in this book, the most notable of which are Cami and Sneak. Cami is a refreshing change from the testosterone-filled evaluators, as she acts as a refuge for Jane, but her connection to the evaluators maintains a point of tension for Jane, as she constantly has to remind herself that no one can be trusted. Sneak lives up to his nickname, in both ability and as someone who is sure to surprise. The special abilities that the characters possess are intriguing, as is the politics of the rival factions, fuelling my anticipation for the subsequent books.

 

starstarstar

 

Whisper will be published by Pantera Press on 01 May 2018.

With thanks to Pantera Press for giving all 2018 YA Showcase attendees an ARC.

Review: ‘Shield’ by Rachael Craw

shield

 I brace and turn. He leans against the pantry. I lean against the counter. Nice and easy. See how relaxed we are, leaning.

Okay, so the quote above doesn’t exactly encapsulate the plot of Shield, but I want to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, and what better way to do it by quoting just one of the few adorably awkward Evie and Jamie moments?

Shield, by Rachael Craw, is the final book in the Spark trilogy (the other titles are Spark and Stray). Evie travels to the claustrophobic Affinity compound. The events of Stray have caused a divide within Affinity, and Evie is not sure who she can trust, and who wants to wipe her out. She is trying to come to terms with the change of her powers, while being forced to re-evaluate her already complicated relationship with her family. Evie runs the risk of being swallowed up by Affinity as she puts her life on the line to try to save the ones she loves.

Evie is a fascinating and fun character to follow. She’s fiercely independent, yet has a strong bond with her aunt Miriam and is protective of her friends. Headstrong, she clashes with many of the characters, which not only shows her determination to forge her own path, but also how much she cares for her friends and family as she clearly places great importance on what they think of her. Evie strives to project herself as cool and calm, particularly around Jamie, but her insecurities spill out through the narration. Craw strikes a balance between poignant, heart-breaking moments and self-deprecating humour.

The relationship between Jamie and Evie is refreshing, as both Jamie and Evie are headstrong and passionate. Evie’s hyper-awareness of her attraction to Jamie is positively giddying.

Jamie steps into the foyer, tall enough to see over the crowd. I experience a brief shutdown: heart, lungs, brain.

While Evie is consistently drawn to Jamie, a desire which is heightened by their genetic mutations, she does not lose herself in the relationship. Evie maintains her sense of self, and doggedly pushes back whenever she feels Jamie is in the wrong. This is not to say she is right every time, but this only adds more depth to her character.

The forbidden love between Jamie and Evie was beautifully, achingly and hilariously written, but there is much more to the series. Rachael has maintained an intense atmosphere throughout the trilogy, and the stakes continue to be raised in Shield. The Affinity compound exudes claustrophobia, through a maze of narrow corridors with low ceilings and small hidden rooms, and the ever-present threat of Reprog and the isolation chamber. The fight scenes are tightly written, with the superhuman elements easy to visualise.

Spark, Stray and Shield are all enthralling reads, owing to a great mix of characters, carefully crafted supernatural elements and a killer plot. While each of the novels deal with heavy-handed issues there is always a sense of hope, which is achieved through the complexity of the characters and the strong relationships they have with one another despite their differences. I thoroughly enjoyed this series, and will undoubtedly revisit the world again.

starstarstarstarstar

 

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