Jumping on the Patrick Ness bandwagon a little late, this was the perfect book to start with, especially as I began reading it just as I was tying up my Joss Whedon binge with season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Rest of Us Just Live Here reads the way it might feel to watch Buffy from a non-Scooby-gang perspective: just a group of friends all dealing with their own ordinary problems, in a town frequented by very strange supernatural occurrences, and just hoping that nobody blows up the high school again before they graduate.
Each chapter begins with a summary of what’s happening with the ‘indie kids’ (Ness’s version of the ‘Scooby Gang’), before moving on to what’s really important: the ordinary, neurotic, chaotic struggles of being a teenager in a small town. The story is narrated by Mikey, whose insecurities and poor mental health drive the plot and pepper his own observations about the others around him. It was simultaneously refreshing and heartbreaking to read a young adult novel that accurately depicted the harshness of adolescent life, without falling into easy cliches and eye-roll-worthy romantic scenarios. Through his careful language and realistic dialogue, Ness beautifully captures what it means to be an ‘ordinary teenager’ on the cusp of adulthood, the dread of an uncertain future, and the agony of being the messed up middle child torn between two dysfunctional parents. To me, the story is driven most strongly by relationships and love, in a very unique way. It wouldn’t be a YA novel without its fair share of romance and torment, but what is most touching is Mikey’s platonic relationships with those around him. His love for his sisters, the love between Mikey and his demigod best friend Jared, and the difficult relationship with his politician mother, create moments that are at times incredibly tense, and at others simply moving.
Though many YA novels discuss mental illness, Ness has taken great care to steer away from the often cliched depictions of mental health in fiction that lead readers to gloss over the most important discussions of those illnesses: that is, how it affects our everyday life, and how to recognise its recurrences even after we feel we have been healed. The Rest of Us Just Live Here, through subtle clues and delicate narration, touches on how disorders like OCD and anorexia can continue to affect the lives of young people years after they have recognised the problem and sought treatment. I cannot stress enough just how important these messages are: to recognise recurring illness, to understand its effect on your life, and to surround yourself with loved ones who will help, rather than facilitate, the problems.
[My copy, signed by the author!]
I often find myself drawn to YA fiction at the most stressful periods of my life, and this one came at exactly the right time. Having just finished my degree and now approaching my own graduation, four years on from the characters in this book, many of the accompanying emotions are the same. At age 18, high school (or sixth form here in the UK) leavers face many of the same life questions as university leavers, at age 22 or so. Above all, for those of us who live ordinary lives and aren’t blessed with special powers or graduate job offers: what the hell do we do now?