Genre: YA, Science fiction, Metafiction
Publisher: HarperTeen on October 6, 2015
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
My thanks to HarperTeen and Edelweiss for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
A new YA novel from novelist Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal- and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning A Monster Calls and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.
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.
THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE features one of the best YA protagonists I’ve read about in a long time, a resilient and hilarious young man named Mikey. Mikey is a very compelling character, funny and wry in one moment then maudlin and philosophical the next. Patrick Ness does a fantastic job of writing about Mikey’s OCD and anxiety in a realistic way (that can be quite hard to read about, honestly) without turning him into “that OCD character.” Mikey’s mental health struggles don’t define him, and his sister Mel’s battle with anorexia doesn’t define her either. This isn’t an “issue” book that focuses primarily on mental health, it’s a book about realistic characters who grapple with real-life issues.
THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE is a very meta book: the major subplot is a send-up of the “chosen one” narrative, featuring a bunch of indie kids and their leader, a young woman named Satchel. Yes, that’s right – her name is Satchel. Each chapter begins with a little update on Satchel’s story, and we see how the consequences of her story reverberate in the lives of Mikey and his friends. It’s really quite brilliant.
Mikey and Jared’s friendship is so special and powerful. They love each other deeply and try to protect one another. I also appreciated how Patrick Ness handled their sexuality: Jared is openly gay and Mikey is questioning, definitely into girls but maybe guys as well. They have experimented sexually but ultimately decided not to go there, and they remain incredibly close without any weirdness or jealousy. That’s some next-level maturity right there!
Although there aren’t a ton of sci-fi elements in THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE, the ones that do play a role are really interesting (and intentionally kind of hilarious). I don’t want to spoil it for anyone so I’ll only say this: one of the main characters has a very unusual heritage that’s resulted in some very special, albeit unwanted, abilities.
Aside from this, we also see the aftermath of many classic sci-fi and paranormal YA tropes. For example, Mikey’s friend and crush Henna lost her brother when vampires came to their town several years prior. He’s still alive (or is he?) but he’s essentially cut off contact with his hyper-religious family. Henna’s family has never been the same since.
In many ways, THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE is about the ones who get left behind. The people whose ordinary lives are disrupted by epic stories, but never get the starring role. And quite frankly, Mikey and his friends don’t want those starring roles because they almost always end badly! All they want to do is graduate before the high school gets blown up. Again.
If I had to pick a favourite YA book for this year, it would hands down be THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE. Highly recommended for fans of smart, funny, poignant stories. And it’s a great introduction to Patrick Ness’ brilliance, if you’ve not read anything by him before.