Patrick Ness Does It Again

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 28, 2015

At BEA’s Author Speed Dating event this year, Patrick Ness was one of the authors who had three minutes to share his upcoming novel with a table full of booksellers. We were one of his last tables — which meant he’d given his pitch approximately 15 times already — but he was relaxed and fresh. He said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory): “You know how characters in all these YAs discover they are the Chosen One with a destiny to save the world? AND they always have really interesting names, like Satchel and Finn? Well, I wanted to write about the kids who aren’t the chosen ones.”
I loved this. The Chosen One formula starts to grate after reading too many dystopias or fantasies in a row, so I was charmed that a writer with Ness’s talent decided to take on the challenge of creating a world in crisis where the main characters are not the superkeys to salvation. Now, having read the ARC, I’m impressed with how cleverly he pulled it off.

In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, a group of mostly ordinary teens while away the final weeks before high school graduation, beleaguered by the usual set of senior anxieties plus a whole host of private romantic and familial angsts that are real, deeply felt, and often funny even in the midst of trauma and heartache. Though they are mostly preoccupied with their personal preoccupations, they do notice strange blue lights in the woods and an uptick in the death rate of “indie kids,” the chosen teens who are always rushing into the forest to fight world-ending supernatural forces and save the world. I don’t want to go further into the story, because much of the joy of it lies in seeing how Patrick Ness weaves all the elements together.
He gives many amusing nods to wildly successful stories that have gone before, from Twilight to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, references that occasionally made me laugh out loud. And he finds a brilliant way to unfold the indie-kid action while staying firmly rooted in the everyday (and more gripping) travails of Mikey, Mel, Henna, Jared, and their families.
Does The Rest of Us Just Live Here meet Ness’s promises to be about the ordinary kids (the ones with common names)? I will say he cheats the teeniest bit on both counts, but he earns the cheats—and calls himself out on it in the bargain. (Can’t say how without spoilers, so weigh in when you’ve read the book and tell me if you agree.) The book has every great quality you want in a YA novel: freshness, authenticity, voice, originality, style, humor, heart, and substance. And it’s just so well done!
I’m delighted rather than surprised. Patrick Ness is an absurdly talented and versatile writer. The Knife of Never Letting Go remains one of the most original, hauntingly memorable, vivid dystopian novels I’ve ever read, while A Monster Calls wraps itself around your heart darkly and profoundly. Every book he writes reveals his rare talent. I can’t wait to recommend this to my customers!

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