The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – Review by Nikki Boisture
“The indie kids, huh? You’ve got them at your school, too. That group with the cool-geek haircuts and the thrift shop clothes and names from the fifties. 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.”
Everyone who has read fantasy or dystopian young adult novels knows that the protagonists are all brave and noble and ‘Chosen.’ But why should the Katniss Everdeens get all the stories? What about the other kids? The kids who are normal, less brave, not chosen, and much more relatable? Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the story of those kids.
Protagonist Mikey is a senior in high school. Something weird is going on in his town, something that has to do mysterious blue lights, and is definitely supernatural in origin. But these aren’t things that Mikey or his friends need to worry about, because that’s the domain of the ‘Indie’ kids (the Chosen Ones). As Mikey and his friends watch from the sidelines as the Indie kids fight whatever mysterious forces are hitting their town, he is dealing with more real world coming-of-age issues.
Namely, Mikey has obsessive-compulsive disorder, he’s desperately in love with Henna, who happens to be one of his best friends, his father is an alcoholic, his mother ignores her family in order to run for public office, he’s jealous of the new guy in town who is probably also in love with Henna (and possibly the cause of the aliens and blue lights and the deaths of a few indie kids), and his best friend Jared is acting really weird. It’s enough to make any kid forget that the mysterious blue lights might destroy his town forever.
Patrick Ness deftly weaves together two stories. That of the indie kids, which is relegated to one paragraph at the beginning of each chapter, and the story of Mikey. While things like aliens taking over the bodies of the local police force can be a very interesting story, Ness’s decision to focus on Mikey is what makes this book stand out from the glut of young adult dystopian novel. Mikey doesn’t save the world. He’s not chosen, he’s not in the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own life to deal with.
Mikey’s worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder is absolutely heartbreaking, but the heartbreak is tempered by soft, sweet friendship Mikey shares with Jared. Mikey’s sister, Mel, is recovering from an eating disorder, but any melodrama is tempered by their sibling bond. Their parents’ indifference is tempered by Mikey and Mel’s feeling of responsibility for their ten year old genius sister. Even the climax, where the two stories collide, is tempered by the surprise of which character gets to save the day.
At its heart, this is a book about the power of friendship, but it manages to be that without feeling overly-saccharine. Mikey and his friends are diverse group (Henna is biracial and Jared is gay) who read like they’ve been friends for years. If you’ve read any other Ness books (I highly recommend More Than This), you already know he’s a master of storytelling. The Rest of Us Just Live Here doesn’t disappoint on the storytelling front. But the layers of character development and friendship run deep. The writing is clever and imaginative, and the book absolutely bursts with heart.
Nikki Boisture is a lifelong reader whose love affair with kiddie lit was started by her childhood adoration of Judy Blume and the Babysitters Club books. She is a stay-at-home mom with two sons and lives in the Washington, DC, suburbs. She blogs about the books she read as a kid at her blog Are You There Youth? It’s Me, Nikki (http://whatireadbackthen.wordpress.com), and occasionally does television reviews at TV Grapevine.