2015 seems to have been the year for rejecting the title of ‘The Chosen One’ and giving some overdue attention to those who aren’t ‘chosen;’ the Rons and Hermiones, the Prims, the… whatever Percy Jackson’s friends are called… you get what I mean. Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Carry On’ gave us a rubbish ‘Chosen One’ and his supporting cast of equally amusing and interesting characters; Patrick Ness’ ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ (Walker Books) offers a different perspective again, putting under the microscope those who are not only not chosen, but entirely separate from those who are chosen. That’s enough of the word ‘chosen’ for one paragraph.
I’ll put it out there straightaway; I loved this book. For one thing, it looks beautiful; the cover is awesome and the page edges are blue, which is something that shouldn’t be a selling point but is. As for the story; it’s relentlessly inventive. Ness’ premise is that, in every town and every school, there are ‘indie kids;’ the ones who fight dragons and fall in love with vampires and accidentally blow things up with poorly executed magic spells. ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ is a bit like what would probably happen if someone from Ravenclaw was permitted a narrative voice in a ‘Harry Potter’ book, presumably feeling snarkily aggrieved about that speccy kid who keeps nearly causing everyone’s horrible deaths while receiving conspicuously preferential treatment from teachers.
Nice enough, never mean, but always the ones who end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the alien queen needs the Source of All Light or something. They’re too cool to ever, ever do anything like go to prom or listen to music other than jazz while reading poetry. They’ve always got some story going on that they’re heroes of. The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges, left out of it all, for the most part.
Having said that, the indie kids do die a lot. Which must suck.
Ness begins each chapter with a summary of what the indie kids are up to, before focusing his attention on Mikey and his (largely normal) friends; for instance, the book begins with the explanation that “the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent vessel,” before moving on to Mikey and his group “talking about love and stomachs.” This interplay between what is normal and what is not is part of what makes ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ so brilliant; Ness manages to satirise a whole genre while creating a brand new one, in a style that seems effortless but can’t be because it is too brilliant. As the world of the indie kids begins to encroach upon the lives of everybody else, the lines between these two different spheres begin to blur, leaving Mikey to wonder whether graduation, prom and just going for a normal, uneventful drive will ever happen.
Aside from all the extremely clever fantasy/reality conflicts, there are very human stories to be found in this book, with Mikey’s struggles against OCD heartrending and compelling, as well as his belief that he is the least-wanted of his group, which made me have something in my eye more than once. The bathos inherent to Ness’ style, in which one character can simultaneously struggle with a god-given affinity with mountain lions and his sexuality, makes ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ both thought-provoking and entertaining, with real, serious issues neatly juxtaposed with more surreal events.
Something else that seems entirely on point is the almost complete separation of teenagers and adults, with generational conflicts underpinning much of the narrative. In a sort of ‘Peter Pan’-ish way, Ness effectively highlights the inherent tragedy of becoming a grown-up and apparently losing the capacity to believe in anything beyond your own sphere.
I was in ninth grade when the vampires came. But even though people started dying, even though people disappeared and stayed gone, even though you could point at one and say, ‘That’s a vampire,’ most people, most adults, still don’t believe it ever happened.
I really loved everything about this book. A character like Mikey in any other book could have been self-pitying and whiny, but in the hands of Ness, you just want to hug him. The characters who surround him are equally well-realised, with Jared being my particular favourite (I am a cat person). The moments of supernatural high drama never distract from the very human stories being told, only serving to draw the reader more deeply into the wider narrative. Look, ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ is just brilliant, okay? I will be bullying everyone I know into reading it, maybe just by screeching ‘MOUNTAIN LIONS’ at them while raising an eyebrow at people called Finn and suggesting they stay out of the woods. And if you want to know what any of that means, you’ll just have to read it.