Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior, hell, even Bella Swan were Chosen Ones. But not all of us can battle dark wizards, a dictatorial government or sparkling vampires – we just have to make sure we’re living our own stories. Patrick Ness looks at some of these stories in his wonderful new novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here, out this month.
Mikey is not one of the indie kids – his name isn’t Satchel or Finn and he doesn’t get chosen to fight vampires, soul-eating ghosts or whatever it is that is attacking his Washington State town in the middle of the nowhere. No, he is just trying to graduate with his friends Henna (whom he is madly in love with) and Jared as well as his sister Mel. The indie kids, as the Chosen Ones are called, are dealing with a new, blue-light emitting threat to the world – but it is not their story that is the center in The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
Instead, we get to follow Mikey as he navigates through his last year of high school: a year full of insecurities and new opportunities. As graduation draws nearer, it is up to him to find out what makes his “normal” life actually worth living and how he can make his life bearable.
Not Everyone Has to Be a Chosen One
Focusing on the lives of the seemingly normal and ordinary kids in the midst of the potentially world-destroying attack is an unusual premise of a novel. But if a writer can pull it off, then it’s most certainly Mr. Ness, the prolific author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, A Monster Calls and More Than This.
This book feels much lighter in tone than his other works, but his beautiful language and languid style feature throughout. He has, once again, produced an absolute page-turner. Mr. Ness has always succeeded in creating engaging characters: the teenagers in this novel might be his most relatable yet.
We follow the life of Mikey, who is a kind, good-hearted teenager with mental health problems and a prominent streak of jealousy. Mr. Ness develops him at a steady pace, opening him up to the reader a bit more with every chapter – we learn about his dreams and his friends and mostly, about his fears – which are somewhat more mundane than zombies or vampires, but still terrifying it their own right.
His group of friends are painted with equal care – first and foremost his sister Mel, a heart attack survivor, and then his best friend, Jared, who may or may not be the God of Cats. Surprisingly, it felt like Henna, the target of Mikey’s affections, gets the least amount of page time and the most rushed development. Nathan, the new kid, gets portrayed as the outsider or interloper – after all, the story is told from Mikey’s perspective.
The focus is mostly on their group of friends, but the supporting characters are well-rounded as well. Mikey’s family is introduced briefly and then the layers of their interactions and relations are peeled back expertly by Mr. Ness.
Some parts of the novel, especially dialogues, feel very quick, but the pace throughout the book is varied with slower sequences interspersed with quicker action scenes.
A great touch are the intros to each chapter, which actually do follow the life of the indie kids trying to fight the danger to the world. Written in just a few lines, these intros manage to tell an intriguing and fascinating story within a story. They provide readers with a brilliant tongue-in-cheek commentary of contemporary young adult fiction which rings true on so many levels.
But Mr. Ness rightly keeps the focus of The Rest of Us Just Live Here on his main characters and their problems without letting them veer too far out into the business of the indie kids (most of the time, that is).
The story shows that sometimes, life isn’t all about saving the whole world, but your own personal world.
With temperatures growing colder and reading times mostly rising again, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a great book by a fantastic author that you should definitely pick up.
It is available at the Bookshop in both a beautiful hardcover edition and an equally pretty softcover. If you’re looking for other recommendations, look no further than the other works of Patrick Ness: Chaos Walking is one of the best Young Adult fantasy trilogies around and definitely follows a pair of Chosen Ones, A Monster Calls is maybe the most beautifully heart-breaking book around and More Than This is a thrilling and thought-provoking futuristic novel.