IT takes a monster to make adult readers wake up to the cool young-adult trend of Patrick Ness.
His novel A Monster Calls was written as a development of the notes handed on to him by the late and deeply lamented writer Siobhan Dowd; now it is into its second life, as a film starring Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver.
And now comes The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
For those — and I am one of them — to whom Ness as a writer of young adult fiction is no more than a name-check, this new novel is a diverting introduction to his representation of a world, the world of the future in a way, in which cool is a concept which cannot be described, only experienced.
YA fiction is an opaque genre, sometimes so obviously confined not only to teenage readers but to pre-adolescent brain cells that it seems hardly worth considering at all, except perhaps as part of parental censorial duty.
What’s happening now is that a sub-genre is emerging, the cross-over novel, a classification in which Patrick Ness is a deservedly important author.
It’s also a classification we’ve enjoyed for many years without knowing it — Lewis Carrol with Alice; Saint-Exupéry with The Little Prince; THWhite with The Once and Future King; Rumer Godden with The Greengage Summer; Gerald Durrell with My family and Other Animals; Adam Gidwitz with The Inquisitor’s Tale, and Meg Rossoff with How I Live Now — these are typical titles of books which appeal to both adults and teenagers.
Patrick Ness writes with a crisp modernity which perfectly captures both the joy and the pathos of teenage cynicism. In The Rest of Us Just Live Here his protagonist, or narrator (the point is that he can’t be called a hero) reflects on the events of his young life in a typically disaffected tone.
In the very first paragraph, for example, he sprawls among friends talking about ‘love and stomachs’. Mikey is in love with Henna, who just isn’t into him.
His other problem is compulsive obsessive disorder, a loop of gestures which he tries to control with the help of his friend Jared, a boy with an affinity for felines.
As they lie there talking and doing a little homework on the laptop they see the indie kids running out of the woods, the girl glowing with her own light.
Thus we meet the indies, a clan of youngsters who do not integrate, who have some mystery in their appearances and disappearances, and who may, or may not, anticipate someone more or less like a new Messiah. They are not Midwich Cuckoos, exactly, but there seems to be some question of a new world order.
Mikey only wants to graduate and to take Henna to the prom and then go away to college. Certainly a New Coming is arranging its wings, but the ordinary difficulties of school life and rivalries, family life and friendships, the process of growing older and being able to see through social devices without actually becoming much wiser in the end, all these elements cloud Mikey’s consciousness of what is threatened. Essentially, life goes on.
There is wisdom in this, of course, and one of the many attractions in this book is the slow accumulation of awareness, both of what is hopeful and of what is surreal and dangerous. Among the other seductive aspects of Ness’s writing is its sly, take-it-or-leave it humour.
He is brilliant at dialogue, and above all at leaving the inexplicable unexplained. And at beguiling old adults to read books for young adults.