Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Young Adult | Fiction > Fantasy
Goodreads Synopsis: 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 worshipped by mountain lions.
In the young adult scene, Patrick Ness is a god. His creativity is legend. His ability to get into an adolescent’s mind and understand them fully with empathy and compassion is something I strive for, not only as a writer, but as a human being. His stories make me laugh, make me cry and everything in between. And here’s the thing: The Rest of Us Just Live Here is – by no means – a bad book, even though it got a relatively low rating. It’s just that Ness has set such high standards for himself that anything short of perfect is disappointing.
Wildly imaginative, profoundly empathetic and laugh-out-loud funny. But you know what? Ness can do so, so much better.
The premise of this book is ridiculous, but also genius. In a world full of books of Chosen Ones, prophecies and extraordinariness comes this novel about the seemingly much less interesting people in the background of the heroes. Their lives don’t involve tracking down paranormal creatures and stopping them, but their lives revolve around the normalcy of graduation and friendship feuds and college and their parents’ careers. They don’t face death and destruction nearly as often as the ‘indie kids,’ but they face other horrors: mental illness, alcoholism and feelings of inadequacy. This book is essentially a rewrite of every single Chosen-One novel out there where the kids in the background are brought to the forefront.
I mean, what could go wrong? And the thing is, in its concept, nothing does go wrong. This novel is important, because it tells us several things at once: you don’t need to save the world to be extraordinary. You don’t need to have three boys chasing you, or a prophecy written after you or anything out of this world to live a worthy life because your family, and your friends and you yourself are what makes life worthy. In a world where adolescents are taught that they need to do something for their lives to matter, this novel is so important. Conceptually, this novel is perfect.
Where it gets a little worn is the world-building and the pacing. It’s very difficult to put this in a genre: it has many elements of contemporary, but also fantasy and I didn’t feel that the blurred distinctions helped. Because I did care about the fantastical happenings and I would have liked to see them integrated a little more seamlessly into the main storyline. Also, for the most part, this book seemed like a snapshot of our main character, Mikey’s life. Not a lot happens, plot-wise unless you consider the fantasy-stuff, which wasn’t explained as well as I would have liked.
Ness is wonderful when it comes to characterization, and while I definitely enjoyed most of the characters in this book, some of them bored me. But I must commend Ness with the diversity he introduced to his ensemble of characters, who deal with very real things like OCD, eating disorders and LGBTQ+ issues.
I thought Mikey was a great protagonist: a slightly awkward kid with OCD, who’s trying to get by without feeling like a total waste of space. Someone who needs to rely on other people but is too afraid to burden them. I thought putting such a vulnerable protagonist in a satire for the Chosen-One trope was effective in its irony. Mikey was extremely lovable, and there were several times when I just wanted to hug him. I also enjoyed his relationship with his sisters. Often, familial ties are glossed over in YA books, which makes very little sense since family is an integral part of adolescent life, in a good or bad way. I would’ve liked to see more interaction with Mikey’s dad, but I’m not too bugged about that.
Jared is Mikey’s best friend, who is sort of a demi-god… of cats: “3/4 Jewish, 1/4 god.” He also happens to be gay, and nobody knows this except Mikey. I loved Jared’s character; he was such a brilliant addition to the story. He was funny, extremely compassionate and a lovely friend to Mikey.
But for some strange reason, I couldn’t bring myself to like or care about Henna. I thought she was insensitive and kind of weird, which is strange because I usually really like Ness’s female characters, who always feel very real and human. And because I didn’t like her, the romance fell flat which was a significant part of the book.
I love how Ness writes. His writing is technically next to perfect, in my eyes. The emotional depth is there but without seeming angsty or over-dramatic. It’s addictive in its simplicity, but it also doesn’t seem overly-simplistic. His dialogue feels realistic. It’s also very humorous, which is a plus especially when you’re dealing with such deep topics. Like I said, in the YA genre, Ness is a god. And despite not loving this book, that hasn’t changed in my mind.
“Michael, do you think cancer is a moral failing?”
“What kind of cancer?”
“Don’t play. You know what I mean. Do you think a woman who gets ovarian cancer is morally responsible for it?”
“Do you think a child born with spina bifida or cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy is at fault for their condition?”
“No, but -“
“Then, why in heaven’s name are you responsible for your anxiety?”