Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"The Rest of Us Just Live Here" will ruin YA SF/F for you, in a good way

"But what about everyone else?"

This is what Ness asks in the introduction (though i guess i'm not sure it'll appear in the published version, one can never be sure when reading an ARC). It seems like every YA book these days features, as he notes, "a Chosen One, who has secret abilities he's never known about or an incredible inner strength that she doubted was there. They're the only ones who can defeat the Big Bad, topple the government, free the people."

Of the hundreds of kids who line up in District 12, only Katniss and Peeta are sent to the Hunger Games. There are plenty of Divergents, but only Tris is divergent enough to do what needs to be done. Harry's just one wizard in a school full of wizards. What about Katniss's second cousin, George, who lives on the other side of town? What about Lisa, an abnegation/erudite just keeping her head down and hoping for the best while handing clothes out to the factionless? What about Jill, the quiet girl in Ravenclaw who would be the best in her year except that Hermione is always better? They have lives, too, you know.

Ness offers up what would be a pretty generic coming-of-age story, a gaggle of kids finishing their senior year of high school, with all the checkboxes ticked: unrequited love (or is it?!), The Gay Friend, The New Kid, distant parents, college angst, etc. But each chapter leads with a plot summary of the equivalent chapter in a Generic YA Book, with all the tropes and cliches and whatnot. While The Chose One is saving the world, Mikey is wondering if he'll ever kiss his dream girl, if he'll stay friends with his bestie when they go off to school.

And the thing is, i hate Coming Of Age stories. 17-year-olds wangsting about the same thing everyone else around them is also going through just makes me snippy. But the juxtoposition made the story. By comparing Mikey and his friends to some unlikely teens out saving the world, it makes the mundanity of getting ready for prom into something much more potent.

Of course, there's also the humor - these are a bunch of normal kids leading normal lives in a world just like ours except that, every few years, Something Goes Horribly Wrong and a Chosen One has to fix it. Casual references to what is, for them, everyday life, are just absurd when they involve the Undead Army interrupting final exams.

(I received a free ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program.)

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