By: Ned Miller
The synopsis on the back of Patrick Ness’ book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is both true and misleading. It briefly tells the premise of the plot: a parody of supernatural high school narratives, which recounts a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like story, from the point of view of the regular students. Had Ness contented himself in limiting his story to the realm of parody, I’m still pretty sure it would have been a worthwhile and fun book to read. However, when everything is said and done, The Rest of Us is so much more than that.
Instead of opting for a sort of tongue-in-cheek high school story, Ness has taken his story about ten paces further. The result might be frustrating to anyone who picks up this book hoping for a relatively regular YA fantasy story set in a high school but “with a twist.” Rather, true to its premise, Ness’ story deviates from the “main plot” and runs parallel to it, as–whilst the showdown between good and evil takes place—the story focuses on a group of regular teenagers, just trying to survive the latest catastrophe, graduate, and get the hell out of their hometown.
While the resultant story is somewhat short of action, the supernatural and heroic banter, it has different, no less gratifying payoffs. First, it beautifully acknowledges the complexity of teenage life, neither shying away from the mess that is teenage-life, nor falling into angst-filled clichés. The main protagonists are all flawed in one way or the other, but not in such a way that makes the story trip on itself in an attempt to be more PC than PC, as many children and YA books, today, try to be.
One of the most important examples of this, for me, is Mikey, the story’s protagonist, who suffers from OCD. But this is not your ordinary misinformed representation of the mental disorder. While the effects and exact symptoms of OCD differ from one person to the next, Ness gives a rather reliable and relatable account of what it feels like to suffer from it. That is a brave choice as I doubt people, and especially teenagers who have never experienced it, will be able to fully understand it. OCD an anxiety disorder, and is not as “sexy” as, some may say, depression or phobias (though they often go hand in hand). However, if my own experience is any judge, then for teenagers suffering from OCD, this uncompromising (and unjudgmental) representation of this problem may be immensely liberating.
Another example is Mikey’s older sister, Mel, who had technically died because of Anorexia, but was luckily revived and managed to climb her way back into relative health of mind and body. Once again, this is not the over-dramatic, but ultimately hollow representation of the disorder, but a sober look at a potentially fatal situation and at a young woman who just wants to—not only not die, but—live. Some people may not agree, but I personally feel that I would have loved to have such representations of mental disorders when I was growing up, so I could know and understand that I was not alone, weird or broken.
Finally, Mikey’s best friend, Jared, is gay. But again, while Ness (openly gay himself) does not avoid the challenges of being gay in high-school, he manages to represent homosexuality almost like a non-issue, which is awesome. Jared is gay, but it does not dictate his behavior, his personality or his social interaction with his friends. And why should it? Instead of being self-conscious and conflicted, as so many LGBTQ youth are represented in YA, he is a confident and personable guy, who just happens to be attracted to men. His friends also take this in stride and that’s it. They neither ignore it, as if it’s not there, nor do they make a big deal of it. Kudos, and I hope we will see many more such LGBTQ characters in YA and in literature in general.
To conclude, The Rest of Us Just Live here, by Patrick Ness, is a delightfully sensitive story, which is a joy to dive into for a spell. While it might be slow for the tastes of those who like mostly fast-paced stories, those who are accustomed to more moderate narratives will greatly enjoy the author’s account of teenage life on the brink of adulthood, with its dashes of fantasy, dark humor and intelligent insights.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here
By: Patrick Ness
Published by: Walker Books (2015)