Published by HarperTeen on October 6, 2015
Genres: contemporary, fantasy, science fiction
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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.
It finally happened. A book was special enough, funny enough, heartfelt enough, and just downright good enough to break the spell. My awful slump might be officially over; and it’s all thanks to Patrick Ness’ sly, hilarious, wry, and absolutely on point observations on growing up and what it means to move on.
What is this book even about? It’s hard to pigeonhole this one into a genre! It’s sort of fantasy, sort of paranormal, sort of sci-fi…but it’s not really any of those things. There are definite supernatural happenings going on in the background. But this is very purposefully a book that is not about those happenings. The point is that there are regular, ordinary (well,for the most part) citizens who are just trying to continue going about their lives, even in the midst of very obvious supernatural turmoil. This book is about the ordinary people who just keep on going. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the most contemporary paranormal I’ve ever read.
The introduction of each chapter humorously portrays what is going on in the realm of the supernatural. The world seems to have cycled through vampires, gods, zombies, and other supernaturals already. Each generation in its turn ignores whatever the current pressing supernatural force is. Now we have Immortal Beings taking over human bodies (violently) and seemingly seeking out overall destruction. The intros take a very loving, very meta poke at the “teenagers save the world” narrative. Especially because it’s not our teenagers who save the world. Our teenagers just look on as the indie kids (for some reason indie kids are preferred for supernaturals-it’s part part of the humor) battle against supernatural forces. Our kids have their own very real issues and fears to face.
The characters in this book are just genuinely good people. Narrator Mikey places us amongst a group of best friends in the last weeks of their senior year of high school. This has, of course, all the complications of years of friendship and human interaction can bring. Mike is such a good person that he actually made my heart ache. Mike has OCD, anxiety, and depression. His sister is recovering from anorexia. One could even say that this is an “issue book.” But if this is an issue book, it’s completely different from any issue book I’ve ever read. One which seamlessly blends its “issues” into the narrative and does not make a point of those issues as a “burden.” What I mean is that often in issue books the issue is essentially the big bad of the novel. It has a weight to it; the issue is a monster. But here the issues are just issues. Yes, they’re serious, but they do not define who these characters are. One of the major strengths of this novel is its honest portrayal of mental health. There is a scene where Mikey is in therapy (yes! Actual therapy in a YA book!) that is particularly raw and honest and heart wrenching.
I could see it argued that nothing really “happens” in this book. It’s true that most of the action happens off-screen with the indie kids battling the Immortals. This narrative basically just follows a group of friends winding down their time together in high school. It’s a very internally driven book, rather than action driven. This book is one that is perfect for the character reader. Especially fans of strong friendships, and also sibling relationships. Outside of what’s going on with the Immortal Beings (and this is largely relegated to the chapter intros), the major conflicts of this book are interpersonal and internal. Mikey’s fears are the totally normal fears of feeling like the least wanted in his group of friends and that his crush on Henna will go forever unrequited. I can’t neglect, though, that there may or may not be zombie deer in this novel. Also, one of the characters is kind of, sort of the God of Cats (this is as awesome as it sounds).
(As a total aside to all of this, as a massive, massive Doctor Who fan I am now even more excited that Ness is helming the new YA spinoff Class. It will undoubtedly be fantastic!)
This is a book about that transition period between high school and college. It’s about acceptance and letting go. The ending is so perfect in how bittersweet it is. There is no “happy ending,” but in life there are no happy endings guaranteed. It’s satisfactorily open ended. You know the sort of book that just makes your heart sort of swell up and feel full of warmth and good things? This is that book.In the end it’s about friendship and how you can choose your family. It’s about being grateful for the love which has been given and received. Yeah, these kids have been through a pretty rough time. But this book is so goddamned hopeful. And, for that, it was perfect.