The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness, answers the question of what the other kids are doing. You know, the ones who aren’t saving the world. I mean the kids at Sunnydale High school who aren’t who aren’t slaying vampires, and the guy in Mystic Falls who just wants to make it as a musician. I’m talking about the kids in Hufflepuff. This novel is about what’s happening meanwhile. It’s about what Mikey is doing while Satchel and Fin fight the Big Bad.

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness, answers the question of what the other kids are doing. You know, the ones who aren’t saving the world. I mean the kids at Sunnydale High school who aren’t slaying vampires, or the guy in Mystic Falls who just wants to make it as a musician. I’m talking about the kids in Hufflepuff. This novel is about what’s happening meanwhile. It’s about what Mikey is doing while Satchel and Fin fight the Big Bad.

Mikey is hoping that he can graduate before his high school gets blown up. Again. He’s waiting for his friend Henna to fall in love with him. He’s trying to regain his rapidly decreasing control over his OCD. He’s also trying not to become collateral damage in the next vampire/undead/soul-eating ghost attack to take over his town.

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Other than that, he only wants to spend all the time he can with his friends – with Henna, Jared and his sister, Mel, before they all go their separate ways for college.

This book is a loving satire on the tropes of young adult fiction. The number one trope of course being the idea of The Chosen One: the girl or boy who has the natural ability at their fingertips to become the saviour of the world. The Katniss Everdeens, for example. Each chapter features a small summary at the beginning of what our Chosen One, Satchel, is up to. The rest of the book is dedicated to the Meanwhile.

The struggles Mikey and his friends went through felt so real to me. Mikey and his sister Mel both struggle with mental health problems. Mikey, like I mentioned, has OCD, and Mel is recovering from anorexia. The way that they support each other is beautiful to see. Their parents are kind of crappy. Their dad is an alcoholic and their mum is so consumed by her political career that it often seems like she only considers her kids in terms of how they will look in a press release. Despite this, Mikey and Mel have both somehow grown up to be remarkably caring and strong individuals, and their love for each other and their baby sister Meredith felt incredibly authentic to read. Patrick Ness did a really good job toward the end of the novel of ultimately humanising Mikey’s parents as well. In small moments he manages to take them from being The Absolute Worst to just… people. It is very hard to see parents that way, ever, let alone when you’re only eighteen, and the way Patrick Ness tackled it was so subtle. There was no stock happy ending in which I got the sense that from now on everything would be okay, but there was the hint of the beginning of progress. Anyone in a complicated family (i.e everyone) knows that sometimes that’s the best you can ask for.

The central theme of the novel was Mikey’s sense of importance, or perhaps I should say lack thereof. Mikey is a deeply insecure individual. He constantly feels like he is the least wanted. He believes he is the person who has the least to contribute to his friendship group, and that he is the most likely to ultimately be deserted by all of them. Reading about this made me super emotional, because this feeling is so common but honestly not one I have seen written about before. Insecurity is such a difficult topic to broach because to an outsider it so often appears completely nonsensical. And yeah – as a result reading Mikey could at times be so frustrating because he was unable to completely believe in and accept the love he was getting from his friends. He was so stuck in his own way he couldn’t see what was obvious – which was pretty much that, as far as friends were concerned at least, he was doing just fine. That is until, in his anxiety, he started pushing people away.

In doing this, Mikey discovers something pretty great about friends: They push back. Mikey’s relationship with Jared was one of my favourite parts of the book. Jared is a secret Chosen One desperately trying to be normal. His Grandmother was a God – the God of cats, to be specific – and a certain amount of her powers have been passed down to Jared. This mostly means that cats follow him around a lot. He also has a small amount of healing powers, but not really enough to do a lot with. He’s also very secretive, something that kicks Mikey’s insecurities into overdrive. They find each other totally frustrating, but also love each other like family, so they figure it out. Their friendship is complicated, but ultimately loving and supportive.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a book about complex, slightly broken, but always hopeful people facing their futures – that is if they can survive high school. Its light satire serves as the perfect antidote for YA trope sickness.

Top Returning TV Shows

I have a confession to make: I watch a lot of TV.

I’m kind of obsessive about it, honestly. I would describe myself as a Netflix fiend.

As such, I love this time of year. I love when the days get a little colder, the nights draw in faster, and all of my favourite shows come back from their summer breaks.

The Vampire Diaries and The Originals

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I love these shows. Switching off from my worries and watching the ever evolving drama of the sexy vampire world is one of my favourite pastimes.

I like to imagine a parallel universe in which Caroline Forbes is my best friend.

TVD and The Originals return October 8th.

The Mindy Project

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It is still insane to me that Fox would ax Mindy. The show is clever, subversive and hilarious. I can’t wait to watch Mindy and Danny parent.

TMP season 3 started September 15th!

Empire

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I came late to Empire. I didn’t get around to watching it until this summer. If I had of realised what I was missing out on, I would surely have watched it much sooner.

At the beginning of season 1, Lucious Lion, CEO of Empire, a record label, finds out he has ALS. He decides to use his remaining time to decide which of his 3 sons he should pass the label down to. Lucious Lion is a despicable human. He lies, cheats and manipulates his way into having power over everybody.

Far and away the best thing about this show is Lucious’ ex-wife, Cookie. Cookie gets out of prison episode one and comes back to Empire demanding a slice of the million dollar business she helped build. The woman is a freaking power-house.

Empire season 2 started September 23rd!

Jane The Virgin

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I have so much love for this show. It’s a romance. It’s about matriarchal families. It’s about the fact that virginity is kind of a dumb concept when you stop and think about it for a minute. It’s also about murder, and drug dealers who hire plastic surgeons to constantly change their appearances.

It’s about a girl who got accidentally artificially inseminated. A girl who ends up having a baby before she’s actually had sex.

It’s also a love triangle. But don’t let that put you off. It’s an intriguing love triangle – for me at least – because I can’t pick a team. I find myself leaning toward Michael, but then Rafael…

The writing for Jane The Virgin is just genius. Each episode plays around with the notion of storytelling, melodrama, stereotypes, class and popular culture while also studying the day to day difficulties of being a person.

Jane The Virgin returns October 12th

Brooklyn Nine Nine

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This show is Parks and Rec’s funny cousin from out of town. It’s wonderful. You should pretty much drop everything and watch it, right now.

Brooklyn Nine Nine season 3 started September 27th!

How I Read Tag

Thanks Jenna @ Reading with Jenna for tagging me!

How do you find out about new books to read?

Most of the usual ways: other bloggers, booktube, Goodreads, etc. I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a lot of podcasts, and those are also full of great recommendations. Podcasts like The Lively Show, Good Life Project and The Accidental Creative are good sources of self-help and the business of creativity-type books in particular. Welcome to Nightvale, an ongoing podcast about the fictional town of Nightvale is coming out in novel form soon. I’m also quite obsessed with comedy ladies like Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, so I will of course read anything they put out into the world.

How did you get into reading?

When I was first in school, my teacher and my mum actually had a bit of trouble getting me to read. I would look at the pictures in the books they gave me and make up the stories for myself. Since the pictures were so great, I figured, I didn’t need to bother with the words parts. Then one day a mean/great teacher took over my class and covered the pictures in my books with paper, forcing me to learn to read the words. I have been obsessed with them ever since.

How has your taste in books changed as you got older?

I have a lot less tolerance for what I perceive to be unhealthy and abusive relationships presented as the Height of All Things Romantic, especially in young adult fiction. The biggest, most famous and most obvious example of this is, of course, Twilight. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I don’t want to read about unhealthy relationships. I am saying however, that I’m only interested in them when they are actually acknowledged as such. I can’t stand a book that defines a manipulative, co-dependent mess as Happily Ever After. I think it’s particularly disgusting when these novels are aimed at young girls. We should not be teaching them that such awful relationship dynamics are okay.

A great novel that totally combats this unfortunate trope is Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler. You can probably guess the basic plotline of that one.

How often do you buy books?

Whenever I have money to buy them and time to read them. Both situations fluctuate regularly. I’m 22. It kind of goes with the territory.

How did you get into book reviewing?

I just finished my degree. I studied English Literature with Creative writing and I wanted to make sure, no matter my job, that I stayed in touch with the analytical side of my brain. Writing book reviews made sense as a next step – I read a lot and I love to talk about it. Writing is something I would love to make at least a partial career out of, so having a constant deadline writing on a subject I’m passionate is good for me.

How do you react when you don’t like the end of a book?

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I am tagging (sorry if you’ve been tagged already or you’ve done this already, it goes without saying that either way you’re free to ignore this!):

Aentee @ Read at Midnight

Josie’s Book Corner

Bookahontas

Bookish Freaks

Emmy and Oliver

Emmy and Oliver were best friends until their forty-third day of second grade. On that day, Emmy watched Oliver get into his dad’s car at the end of school, not knowing that would be the last time she would ever see him.

For ten years, anyway.

Oliver’s dad kidnapped him. A nationwide police search follows, but no matter how hard they try and how many appeals Oliver’s mum makes on the TV, Oliver is not found. For ten years, Emmy doesn’t know what became of her best friend.

Until one day, suddenly, Oliver comes back.

13132816Emmy and Oliver, by Robin Benway, is one of those books that I obsessed about. I was so intrigued by the premise that by the time I actually had the book in my hands, I was a little afraid to read it. I had built it up into such an experience in my head, I was sure it would only disappoint.

It did not.

Oliver’s kidnap hangs heavy over the lives of everybody in the book. In reaction to witnessing their friend go through one of the worst tragedies imaginable, Emmy’s parents become restrictively overprotective. Don’t get me wrong – they are nice people and likeable characters – but their anxiety is like a third parent, pushing Emmy away even as it wishes to draw her closer. In response, she does what any teenager would: Emmy carefully curates a secret life, while keeping up appearances of being the low risk child her parents need her to be. In secret, Emmy surfs. She’s really good at it. She’s so good in fact that her wish to pursue it is influencing her decision over where to go to college. Against her parents’ wishes (and without their knowledge) she has applied to UC San Diego, a college a couple hours away which has one of the country’s best surf teams. Emmy’s parents’ have told her that she’s going to a local community college and living at home for the first year at least. Emmy has no idea how to get them to let her go.

Emmy is dealing with all of this even before Oliver’s sudden re-entrance into her life. I think Robin Benway handled his return in a truly skilled way. Oliver’s reappearance brought so much grief for lost time to the surface. To see him, for almost everybody in the neighbourhood, was to be filled with regret for him and his whole family – his mother who had missed most of his childhood, and his baby sisters who hadn’t ever even met him. Oliver, even in finally – finally – being present, is an embodiment of all that has been lost – to Emmy and to everyone else whose lives have been touched by his kidnap.

And, honestly, his being back was also super awkward. How do you make small talk with the school kidnap victim? There is no social hand book for this stuff. Add to that the fact that Oliver barely even remembers Emmy and her friends – while he has been something of a defining presence in their lives – and you’ve got quite a situation.

Watching Emmy and Oliver rebuilding their friendship is so wonderful. It isn’t easy. Emmy is making plans for her future while Oliver is trying desperately to come to terms with his past, but despite that, in fleeting moments that grow into something more concrete, they uncover the long lost connection that made them friends in the first place.

This alone would probably have been enough for me, but in addition to the ever evolving Emmy/Oliver dynamic, Benway writes awesome friendships between Emmy and her best friends, Caroline and Drew. I get so frustrated with how one dimensional side characters frequently are in YA, that how deeply imagined Caroline and Drew were was so refreshing to read. I was as eager to spend time with them as I was Emmy and Oliver. Caroline is a neat-freak forced to share a bedroom with her disaster area of a sister. Drew hangs out with his boyfriend in Starbucks to avoid his conservative family. I enjoyed being vicarious friends with them immensely.

One of my favourite scenes happens after Oliver has been home a couple months, and Emmy, Caroline and Drew invite him to a party. A gross guy hits on Emmy, and when Oliver asks about it, Emmy and Caroline explain to him exactly why this guy is so bad:

“…Caro said to Oliver….  ‘he always hits on her. What did he say to you that one time, Em?’

I reached for my beer, then took a sip and passed it to Caro.

‘You’re not like other girls,’ I said, in my best dude-bro voice.

Oliver frowned a little. ‘Is that bad?’ he asked. ‘I thought you were gonna say something way worse.’

‘It’s bad!’ Caro and I both screamed at the same time, then immediately jinxed and unjinxed each other, crossing our fingers and rapping our knuckles against the wooden table. ‘It’s just a stupid thing to say,’ Caro added after we could both speak again.

‘Like, what’s wrong with being like other girls?… girls are awesome! Caro’s awesome.’

‘I am!’ Caro nodded to herself, then jabbed a thumb into her chest. ‘More people should be like me!’”

This drunkenly made point is so valid. There’s this impossible to dispel myth in so much media that ‘not like other girls’ is currency. It’s gross, and unfortunately very common in YA. This self-awareness of genre was part of what made the writing so great. When you read a lot or watch a lot of movies you come to recognise a pattern of plot progression. It often breaks down to four steps – connection, unravelling, fight, reconciliation. Throughout Emmy and Oliver, I kept waiting for this pattern to appear, but it never did, and that lack of familiarity throughout was just so satisfying. The plot did what all its characters are striving to: it went its own way.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. 

Hey, book meme world. It’s nice to finally meet you.

1. Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

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I haven’t read her previous work, but as a YA writer with a focus on feminist issues, she seems like my kind of woman. I am always for a writer working on feminist awakenings in teenage girls. My own was pretty much entirely down to the Sociology classes I took in high school. My teacher was a shameless feminist and taught much of the topic through that lense. It was awesome.

2. Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo

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I read the first two books of the Grisha series during the first weekend I ever spent totally alone in a house. Both of my housemates had gone away and I spent almost the entire time reading. It was great, and I have wanted to live alone ever since. Sadly, I will likely not be able to afford it for many years to come.

3. Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

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I read about this books months ago. Through a combination of living in the UK, where everything comes out last and struggles with my adult life, I still haven’t read it yet. (I swear the amount of time in a day shrinks when you hit twenty-one).

4. Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

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Fantasy best friend. Enough said.

5. Let The Games Begin – Niccolo Ammaniti

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This is a super weird looking book I picked up for free at my summer job. I worked at a book festival. One time when I went by the office they were just like ‘Please, have a free book.’ Yes. This job was the best thing ever.

6. Dracula – Bram Stoker

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I am determined not to let being finished with university be an excuse to stop reading widely. As much as I love YA, there are classic reads that I am likely to enjoy just as much! I picked up this book when I was on holiday in Yorkshire, and we went to Whitby, the cute seaside town that was the totally unlikely inspiration for this book.

7. George – Alex Gino

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This novel is about a transgender girl who wants to play Charlotte in the production of Charlotte’s Web her school is putting on. Her teacher won’t let her audition because she’s a boy. So George and her friend Kelly come up with a plan…

8. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari

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I just love him so much.

9. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – Stephen R. Covey

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Who doesn’t want to be more effective?

10. Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

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I’ve been fantasising about Baz since Fangirl.

Where I Hang Out On The Internet #3

I haven’t done this in forever.

To read:

This Is Water. David Foster Wallace gave good commencement. I recommend this if you’re currently in the process of figuring out how to be a grown up.

‘There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish go on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”‘

To watch:

Ira Glass on storytelling and being a beginner.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And A took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

To listen: 

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The Moth is a weekly storytelling podcast. It is absolutely wonderful and guaranteed to make your life at least 15% better. Don’t believe me? Try this story.

Sequel Watch: Winger

This book was great. Andrew Smith uses Ryan Dean West’s immature but developing voice to navigate issues of sexuality, masculinity, misogyny and loss. He manages to do this while also being very, very funny. Not many books make me actually laugh out loud, but this one had me giggling with abandon even outside of the safety and seclusion of my bedroom. I laughed, by myself, reading, in public.

Winger, by Andrew Smith, is the diary of Ryan Dean West, fourteen year old genius who just landed himself in what his boarding school, Pine Mountain refers to as ‘Opportunity Hall’ for the semester. It’s where they put the bad kids, and Ryan Dean has found himself sharing a bedroom with one of the baddest: notorious school bully Chas Becker. As he’s been skipped ahead a couple grades owing to the whole genius issue, most of Ryan Dean’s friends are a couple years older than him. Generally, this isn’t a problem, apart from where Ryan Dean’s best friend, Annie – who he also happens to be madly in love with – is concerned.  When Annie looks at him, she only sees a little kid. Winger is Ryan Dean’s homemade school survival manual, complete with the hand drawn comics he uses to make sense of his life as it develops.

wingerThis book was great. Andrew Smith uses Ryan Dean West’s immature but developing voice to navigate issues of sexuality, masculinity, misogyny and loss. He manages to do this while also being very, very funny. Not many books make me actually laugh out loud, but this one had me giggling with abandon even outside of the safety and seclusion of my bedroom. I laughed, by myself, reading, in public.

A central theme of this book is the idea of masculine identity. One way that Smith dissects this is through Ryan Dean’s relationships with girls. Ryan Dean, like many teenage boys, spends most (pretty much all) of his time thinking about sex, and in particular, how to get sex. His interactions with girls are limited as a result, because he views them as sex objects. This attitude almost entirely messes up his relationship with Annie as Ryan Dean struggles to figure out whether sex with a girl is better than a relationship with the girl he has actually feelings for. Joey – Ryan’s friend, I am going to talk more about in a minute – points out to Ryan Dean that perhaps his quest for ‘a girl’ is part of what keeps ‘the girl’ (Annie) away. How is she supposed to trust a boy more interested in sex in general than women as individuals? Much of Ryan Dean’s journey throughout the novel is concerned with the importance of love and sex to his happiness.

Probably my favourite part of the book was Ryan Dean’s friendship with the aforementioned Joey Consentino, another resident of Opportunity Hall. Joey is the only openly gay kid at Pine Mountain. Initially, Joey’s sexuality makes Ryan Dean uncomfortable. He spends a lot of time dwelling on Joey’s sexuality, and what it means to him. He worries about his friendship with Joey being misinterpreted as something more, both by Joey himself and the wider school community. The better he gets to know Joey, however, the more he gets over his anxieties. At the start of the novel, Ryan Dean processes the idea of ‘gayness’ in the same way as he sees women: monolithically. Rather than – as he comes to (because Joey is the freaking best. As per usual, I fell in love with a guy I could never have…) – seeing Joey as the loyal, kind, funny, troubled, complex person that he is, he just obsesses about the fact that he likes boys. Ryan Dean’s friendship with Joey helps him realise that sex isn’t at the centre of everything. Love is.

In coming to understand the complexities in others, Ryan Dean really comes to know himself. When unthinkable heartbreak occurs, he has the tools to survive it. He understands that love will see him through. He learns that his masculine identity is complex, that it’s more than sex and beating on boys who disagree with you. It’s about imagining women complexly and having loving and platonic relationships with other men.

Winger is a wonderfully complex imagining of the mind of a teenage boy. Ryan Dean West is a frustrating, funny, immature but growing protagonist. His journey makes awesome reading.

Stand Off, Andrew Smith’s sequel was released early September. Details on Goodreads.