What if you aren’t the Chosen One?
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend is worshiped by mountain lions.
Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.
Warning: There is some profanity in this book and this review – it’s not extreme, but it might be something that puts some parents off.
I’m gonna tell it to you straight: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is bit of a roast. It’s funny, it’s snarky, and it doesn’t hold back on making fun of some of the conventional concepts and ideas in YA books right now.
This is only my second Patrick Ness book (my first was The Knife of Never Letting Go), but it’s vastly different from the one I read before, which was a straight-up dystopian (but it came out ages before dystopian became a trend…and it’s REALLY good).
What Ness tries to do with The Rest of Us Just Live Here is, to me, far more experimental. He’s assigned himself the task of putting the “normal” kids – the kids that no one ever focuses on in paranormal, dystopian, or fantasy reads – at the forefront of the book instead of as background. Instead of the Buffy‘s of the world, we get to focus on the Jonathans. Instead of Edward, Jacob and Bella, we get the Jessica’s of the world.
“We dream the same in my town as you probably do in a city. We yearn the same, wish the same. We’re just as screwed up and brave and false and loyal and wrong and right as anyone else. And even if there’s no one in my family or my circle of friends who’s going to be the Chosen One or the Beacon of Peace of whatever the hell it’s going to be next time around, I reckon there are a lot more people like me than there are indie kids with unusual names and capital-D Destinies.”
Our narrator and protagonist, Mikey, calls those Buffys, Edwards, Bellas, and Jacobs, the “indie kids.” Ness never really defines the term “indie kid” other than it being the kids that all the “big” things in town happen to. Yes, he jokes about them being too cool to even think of going to prom or attending graduation, but for Mikey and his friends, the indie kid title is just a catch-all for the kids that are usually the main characters. And the point of the book is that Mikey, Henna, Mel, and Jared have just as much stuff happening to them – it might not be paranormal stuff, but it’s important stuff nonetheless.
“Not everyone has to be the Chosen One. Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing the things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes not sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway.”
And it’s real and it’s deeply compelling. Ness intersperses each chapter with a summary of what’s going on in the indie kids’ world (they’re being invaded by a group called the Immortals, and there’s magic amulets and blue lights and fissures in dimensions), but the rest of the book is just the arc of Mikey’s life: finish high school, hang out with his sisters and make sure they’re okay, get the courage to ask out his love interest, and try not to succumb to all of the pressures (including his parents) that are making his anxiety and OCD crop up again. I was engaged the entire way through, and not just because I’m a YA contemporary reader. I really believe that anyone who loves spec fic will find this book just as funny, and Mikey’s battle is just as important, if not more important than the one that the indie kids face.
“…I hate myself. I feel like an idiot saying it because, blah, blah, teen angst, boo hoo, but I do. I hate myself. Almost all the time. I try not to tell anyone because I don’t want to burden them, but I feel like I’m falling farther and farther away from them. Like the well’s getting deeper and I’m running out of energy to climb it and any minute now, any second, it’s going to stop being worth even trying.”
Ness’ writing is poignant and voice-perfect for teens about to graduate high school; the book doesn’t judge, but presents Mikey’s journey in the clearest and most natural way possible – for a town that has faced vampires, soul-sucking ghosts and the reconstruction of a high school more than once.
Mikey and his friends never ignore the weirdness going on, but they choose to try to focus on being together and present enough to enjoy each other. It’s actually kind of beautiful watching them struggle through these last few weeks, saving each other from zombies and explosions, but also saving each other from their own fears and lives.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like, it’s that maybe Ness pushed the indie kid point a little too hard – it’s a little biting to hear him talk about the indie kids’ appearance and the YA tropes that keep appearing (at one point, a character says, “This is worse than when all of the indie kids were dying beautifully of cancer”). I know Ness likes to keep it real, but some of the indie kid stuff, especially with their appearance, just felt judgey. That said, Ness knows his characters, and though he rides the fine line between the characters being judgey and the book being judgey, I don’t feel like he actually crosses it with the book.
Scooby Gang: Ness is a master of the character development and friendships – Mikey’s arc is tightly woven with his crush on Henna, his attempt to save his sister Mel from herself, and his desire to stay close to his best friend Jared in spite of the looming end of high school. Each of these characters plays a role in his development, but they also all have arcs of their own, some of it happening right in plain sight for Mikey, but some of it also in the background, building on the idea that everyone is a main character in their own lives.
Book Theme Song:
Too opinionated for the pacifist, too out of touch to be in style
Too broke for the rich kids, I don’t know what normal is
What’s normal anyway?
Be in a crowd and not feel alone, I look around and not feel alone
I never feel like I belong, I wanna feel like I belong, somewhere
Don’t let them change you, just be who you are
The Final Word
Funny, well edited, and compassionate, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a book that is both satirical and real. It’s a book that deals extremely well with mental health, addiction, and other issues, but never feels like a book ABOUT that. What it does feel like is a book about characters who know they might not always be the stars, but try to live like they are anyway – and they absolutely should.
THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE comes out on October 6 in North America. Will you be picking up a copy? What’s your least favorite YA trope or concept? Are you an indie kid or a normal kid?