“The Rest Of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness (2015)

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We can't all be the Chosen One.

We can’t all be the Chosen One.

“On the day we’re the last people to see indie kid Finn alive, we’re all sprawled together in the Field, talking about love and stomachs.”

Every good story needs a hero. The Buffy Summers, Harry Potter or Darren Shan of the piece who has to save the world (and often just the school) from imminent destruction from the Villain of the Week. But there are only so many zombies, ghosts or dark lords to defeat, so not everyone gets to do it. This is a story about those who aren’t chosen. These are the characters who, rather than wanting to save the world, just want to make it to graduation without the school blowing up or any of their friends being used for a sacrificial ritual. After all, what was Hogwarts like if you actually attended all your lessons and never had to smuggle dragons out the castle or do battle with giant snakes?

Our narrator is Mikey, a high school senior with OCD who is struggling with growing up, the friendships that may be about to end, and his unrequited feelings for his friend Henna. Along with his sister Mel, a recovering anorexic, and his best friend Jared, who happens to be a quarter God, he’s counting down the days until the school year ends and he has to leave his pathetic little town in the middle of nowhere.

He has problems, but they’re mostly ordinary. Jared is keeping a secret from him, Henna seems to have developed a crush on the new boy Nathan, Mikey’s mother’s political ambitions are perhaps getting in the way of letting them have a united family, and to cap it all, Mikey’s OCD is getting worse again. Still, at least he’s not one of the indie kids. They’re the kids who keep getting involved in the strange events around town. Years ago it was zombies, or vampires, but this time the town is at risk from Immortals who glow with a blue light and are killing anyone in their way. But that’s not Mikey’s story – he just hopes no one blows up the school before he can get his diploma.

This is such a cool concept for a story. Yes, there is a massive threat to the town, and possibly the world, but this time we’re not going to be part of it. Every chapter opens with a brief summary of, basically, what we would see in that chapter if we were following the hero indie kids, but then will cut to a very ordinary event with Mikey and his friends. They sometimes brush up against the fantasy story, but they’re not directly connected. This adds so much to the world of fiction, and brings home again the notion that we are all the heroes in our own stories, but every single one of those stories are connected. Some people have to save the world, and some just have to survive the consequences.

Both heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, the story details much about the nature of family and friends, especially the family we construct from our friends and how that’s different for everyone. Patrick Ness writes with such warmth and sweetness that you can’t help feel for Mikey, Mel, Jared, Meredith, Henna, and the rest of them with their struggles. Jared is particularly interesting, as I love the idea of someone who just “happens to be a God”, but he doesn’t really let it affect him when he can help it.

A wonderful, funny and sweet novel about growing up, feeling unloved, struggling to move on, and why sometimes it’s best not to be at the heart of the action.

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“More Than This” by Patrick Ness (2013)

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more than“Here is the boy, drowning.”

I was first introduced to Patrick Ness at the end of 2013 when the first of his Chaos Walking trilogy was thrust into my hands by a friend. After gulping the series down and loving every page of it, it wasn’t long before I was discussing the books with another friend and she suggested this one. I bought it last year and have only just got around to reading it (because I do that a lot). Always happy to return to an author I enjoyed, I expected to be blown away once more. Luckily, I was.

This is the story of teenager Seth Wearing and what happens after he dies. He wakes up wrapped in bandages on the front path of the house he grew up in, but hasn’t lived in for eight years not since … not since something terrible happened. The world is entirely deserted, filthy and with weeds growing out of every surface. He cannot explain how he has come to be here, given that this house is in England and was living in America, so comes to assume that this is his own personal hell. After all, the weather is very strange and only hell would send you back to the location where your worst memory took place.

Seth explores the old town, finding supplies in the remains of the shops and houses, but finding absolutely no other people. Every time he falls asleep he is plagued by dreams – bad dreams of what happened before he died, of how he led to his brother being mentally disturbed; how he fell in love with his best fiend Gudmund, but it was all taken away from him when his classmates found out. For days he believes he is all alone until he sees a van moving – the first sign of human activity since he arrived there. But when he tries to call out to the van for help, he finds himself captured by two misfits; angry, strong Regine, and tiny, enthusiastic Tomasz who insist that they are going to save his life. Seth has to work out exactly where he is and what’s going on, which is complicated when the last thing you remember before arriving in a desolate wasteland is breaking your skull against a rock.

Like the Chaos Walking series, Ness is very good at pacing. For the first hundred or so pages, there are no characters except Seth (not counting his flashbacks and dreams) but at no point does this seem a struggle. Ness is a master at cranking up the tension and the book is genuinely terrifying in parts, and just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. The twists keep on coming and layer after layer of secrets are revealed with such speed and timing that the book soon runs out on itself and you find yourself on the final page with a cliffhanger that will probably frustrate you forevermore. I think it will me.

Although Seth is a fairly bland character – while not a typical boy-genius YA character, he’s pretty inoffensive with nothing to mark him out as special – the small cast around him more than makes up for it. Tomasz is unerringly cheery, even in this wasteland, and his English is flawed but sweet. He’s young but has the eyes and emotions of someone much older, someone who has had no choice in the matter of growing up. Regine is another strong, female character known well in the genre, not taking any shit from the boys but still maintaining a protective, caring side when it needs to be shown. Gudmund appears a nice guy, but is perhaps anything but, which is almost a shame.

This is the sort of book that makes hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you can never really explain why. There’s a lot of ambiguity, particularly as to whether this is all happening in Seth’s mind or if it’s real, and even when things do get explained, you can’t always tell if that makes the situations less creepy or more so.

Frankly, this book just needs to be read, especially if you enjoyed Patrick Ness’s other books, but also if you just like something a bit smart, a bit weird, a bit creepy, and a bit fantastic.