To be perfectly honest I haven’t read any YA fantasy in a long time. Unless you count another Patrick Ness book (The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I had been recommended years ago by a friend). So I don’t know, maybe YA fantasy is different now. Or maybe Patrick Ness is truly on a whole ‘nother level of understanding teenagers. Either way, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is one of the most inventive and refreshing YA books I have ever read.
The basic plot, without giving too much away, is that the standard end-of-the-world Immortals from another realm trying to take over ours plot is happening. But our protagonists are not the ones Chosen to fight the evil, they’re just at the same high school while this is all happening. It’s really a fascinating concept. I definitely have wondered before, while reading The Princess Diaries, for example what other girls who went overlooked and felt invisible at Mia’s school felt when she turned out to be a princess. Did it inspire them? Did it make them feel worse? (No judgement zone please, I was a HUGE Princess Diaries fan). Not everyone gets to be the Heroine of their story.
The impact of this perspective is huge. The teenagers presented in The Rest of Us are normal. Not only because they’re not the “indie kids” who have names like Satchel, and never use the internet. But because they’re flawed. Mike, the narrator, has debilitating OCD and his sister is anorexic. Their whole friend group is a normal bunch of neurotic teenagers coping with mental illness and the total overwhelming fear of growing up. If I had read this as a wee teen I can’t even imagine the impact all these neuroses being presented as acceptable would have had.
In a scene where Mike visits a therapist (again, totally normalised behaviour) his therapist tells him:
“But if you’re going to obsess about something, obsess about your obsession being a treatable disorder. Obsess about it not being a failure of something you’ve done or something you didn’t do or some intrinsic value as a person that you fail to have.” (Ness, P 2015 pg. 258).
I had to stop and read that again. What a freaking great message to just have secretly stashed away in a book that on the surface is about other Beings trying to take over the world. But no, this book is really about the goddamn struggle it was being a teenager. Patrick Ness does not underestimate his audience, nor does he patronise them. It’s so refreshing.
The plot, since I should mention that, is hilarious. Ness manages to make subtle digs at all the classic YA fantasy tropes while still writing believable fiction. At one point he mentions indie kids “dying beautifully of cancer” which I found hilarious (I’m not a huge fan of John Green) and then found even more hilarious after being told they are apparently friends. Each chapter gives a brief recap of what is happening to the “Chosen ones” or as they are represented in this novel, “the indie kids”. The plot is predictable and totally cliche, and through these short recaps Ness’ wit shines through the most.
There is also representation of different races, sexualities, and the raging hormone battle that overcame every human being at least once when they were 17. I don’t know whether Ness has a really good memory or just gets it, but teenagers are weird. And they don’t need to be coddled when it comes to their fiction.