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 no sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway.
I was hooked as soon as I read the title, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Granted, I was already a fan of Patrick Ness after reading The Knife of Letting Go and A Monster Calls (I didn’t include my review of A Monster Calls on my blog, but you can find it on my Goodreads page). The premise of The Rest of Us Just Live Here feels like a homage to the Buffyverse, as it centres around a group of teenage friends who are just trying to survive high school, while supernatural forces battle with the Chosen Ones, aka the indie kids.
Each chapter opens with a brief summary of the goings on of the indie kids and the supernatural elements. The summaries are hilarious (so many hipsters named Finn!), and there are moments when the supernatural elements spill out into the main story, including this gem:
‘Which is when one of the indie kids comes running out of the treeline, his old-timey jacket flapping out behind him. He pushes his fashionably black-rimmed glasses back on his nose and runs past about twenty feet from where we’re all tumbled together. He doesn’t see us – the indie kids never really see us, not even when we’re sitting next to them in class – just crosses the Field and disappears into the opposite treeline, which we all know only leads to deeper forest.
There’s a silent few seconds where we all exchange wtf glances and then a young girl glowing with her own light comes running out of the woods from where the indie kids came. She doesn’t see us either, though she’s so bright we all have to shade our eyes, and then she disappears into the second treeline, too.’
While there are many comedic moments surrounding the battle between the indie kids and the supernatural forces, The Rest of Us Just Live Here also examines the division between teens and adults, which is attributed to the teens being the only ones caught up (whether directly or as witnesses to) the supernatural war. The possibility is raised that adults rationalise the supernatural occurrences away as natural disasters in order to downplay the severity of the situation. It is also suggested that perhaps the adults experienced or witnessed supernatural phenomena as teens, but they have forgotten what it was like to be teenagers. The (possibly willing) ignorance adults have to the teen experience has detrimental effects on the teen characters. What is most heartbreaking is that the damage caused to the 17-year-old narrator, Mikey, and his 18-year-old sister, Mel, is not as a direct result of the paranormal, but of the (direct or indirect) negligence shown by their parents. At no point does the presence of the mental illnesses depicted in the novel feel as a plot device, as each illness is explored and presented in a thoughtful and earnest manner.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a highly emotionally evocative read, due, in no small part, to the diverse range of characters and their multifaceted relationship. Arguably, the most poignant relationship is Mikey and his sister, Mel. Their relationship is beautifully understated despite the high stakes they face, through the way in which they observe and react to one another. And while they both have their own romantic interests and personal battles, their relationship is never at risk of fading away to a minor footnote in the novel.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a thrilling, hilarious, poignant and heartbreaking read. Patrick Ness is a masterful storyteller.
Patrick Ness and Jesse Andrews will be appearing in conversation with C.S Pacat at the Athenaeum Theatre on Monday, May 7, as part of the Mayhem series by The Wheeler Centre. Tickets are still available. I’ll be live-tweeting the event.