The indie kids, huh? (…) always the ones who end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling (…) They’re too cool to ever go to prom or listen to music other than jazz while reading poetry. They’ve always got some story going on that they’re the heroes of. The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges, left out of it all, for the most part.
In The Rest of Us Just Live Here (2015), author Patrick Ness asks: what if you weren’t the Chosen One? What about the people who are just getting about their lives as the fight for humanity takes place? The bystanders or collateral damage to whatever unfolds. And he posits that just maybe, every day life can feel just as important, or terrifying, as battling hostile invaders from another world with your three indie pals all called Finn.
When I was in England back in May I picked up a signed copy of The Rest of Us from Waterstones. I’d had my eye on it for a while, not just because of the premise but also because I’m a sucker for bright, graphic covers. But also anything that parodies one of my favourite genres (YA urban fantasy) will always be a fun ride.
I really liked the layout of the book. Each chapter heading contains the plot for the “hero story”, i.e what the indie kids are up to as they fight and fall in love with their enemies and each other. The body of the chapter then follows Mikey and his friends as they deal with their final year of school, their changing relationships in light of the realization that this will be their final summer together, and their own more personal struggles involving mental health, family and sexuality. All the while the “hero story” flits in and out like background filler.
Their relationships within the group felt authentic and comfortable. This is a group of people who truly care about each other and that’s really nice to see in “contemporary” YA where often we’re dealing with lone wolf, ostracized characters. Even if Mikey feels at odds with his friends at times, we never get the sense that he’s the “quirky, weird, special” one, everyone is dealing with their own things.
Romantically I liked the way this book dealt with relationships too. There was no judgment or patronizing view of teenage sexuality (unlike other books I’ve read recently!!), and Ness dealt with each situation with an even hand, so that it was comfortable and natural without being preachy in its normalization. I particularly liked the way Mikey’s relationship arc resolved *spoiler* because, no matter how much we think we like someone, sometimes friendship is just a much better option than trying to force romance. Some people just work better as friends and, as I’ve said before, friendship is no less valuable than romance. Friendship is important guys! Stop treating it like it’s second best!!! *end of spoiler*. I also like that we didn’t have the worn-out trope of girls competing for the same guy. I wish we would stop this idea that girls have to compete with each other all the time. It’s just exhausting, ok??
On the other hand, sometimes the mental health side of the story was delivered with a heavier hand than was strictly necessary. I appreciated it being there and it’s really important to show the reality of mental illness without all the glorification we get on sites like Tumblr. But still, I feel like the effect could have been the same without so much pushing.
Another comment I will make is that the ending was a little convenient/ flat. I get that Ness was trying to show the “ordinariness” of these kids’ lives within the context of the extraordinary, so he didn’t want to raise the stakes too much. But a little more of a climax or challenge might have been a nice way to finish a strong story on a high. All the narrative needed was just one final zinger at the end, instead of relying on the “hero story” to provide the big bang as it were.
But over all I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Difficult issues were handled with sensitivity and insight. The pitfalls that YA novels often fall into were avoided. And I felt like we came out the other end having grown with the characters. It was a fun way to tell a serious story.
4 out of 5 stars