Updated: Sep 2, 2022
From The Hunger Games to the Divergent series, and even The Mortal Instruments, it’s hard to deny that the young adult genre thrives on narratives about ordinary heroes standing up to insurmountable power. It’s with good reason: in a world that can often make young adults feel powerless, it’s an escapist fantasy to be able to fight back against oppressive governments or a looming threat.
But what about the non heroes of the story? The characters so far outside of the story’s scope that they are just a nameless face in a mob? What do they do as the heroes go and save the world? Patrick Ness provides an answer with The Rest Of Us Just Live Here.
The Rest Of Us Just Live Here follows Mike, an ordinary high school student in a world of “indie kids,” or students who would be the protagonist of any other story in the same vein. The story is written in first person, so we get a glimpse into Mike’s thought process and humorous jabs at the indie kids. Mike’s friend group is also ordinary: Mel, his older sister who was held back a year; Henna, a girl who “has an indie kid name” but not the distinction; and Jared, a loveable brilliant jock whose relationship with Mike is more than just platonic. Mike’s family dynamic is complicated in a way these types of stories don’t normally tackle: his mother is a local politician running against Jared’s father, his father struggles with alcohol, and his little sister Meredith is an adorable ten-year-old who knows how to get under his skin in just the right way.
The focus of the plot is on Mike and him trying to build up the courage to profess his feelings for Henna before they all graduate. However, each chapter begins with a brief paragraph detailing the adventures of one of their classmates, a girl named Satchel. Satchel, along with fellow indie kids Dylan, Finn (who is a different Finn than the one found dead at the beginning of the story), and a nameless prince from a different planet as they all try to stop an alien invasion.
Their story would be a perfect set up for a trilogy, yet it’s written in an annotative style. It’s the story happening in the background, which eventually does intersect with the main plot, though it doesn’t leave as big of an impact as we would expect. In a subversion of expectations, the role of main plot and sub plot (or even non plot) have switched.
This story is hard to define as one single genre because it wears several hats. Due to the setting, its best fit is fantasy or science fiction (especially with the inclusion of the indie kids subplot). However, The Rest Of Us Just Live Here is an entertaining satire on the genre as a whole. One of the running jokes is the names of the indie kids. There are at least five separate Finns mentioned, as well as names like Wisconsin, Aquamarine, and Earth among others.
Satchel’s journey is also full of romantic twists and turns recounted in blunt terms, meant to poke fun at the ridiculous romantic webs this genre tends to weave. Phrases such as, “Satchel and Dylan comfort each other, platonically,” are structured to satirize relationships in this genre. This books isn’t afraid to have fun at the genre’s expense and perhaps even vent about some of the most commonly used (and overused) tropes found therein.
Though this book sets up a humorous structure and builds on an amusing premise, it has a deep and thoughtful conversation about the issues ordinary people face. We learn in the first chapter that Mike has OCD, which is not outright told to us, but instead shown by his repetitive behavior tapping a book on his lap.
Throughout the book, we see how those behavior tendencies get in the way of his functioning. A particularly potent scene is Mike washing his hands while talking to Jared, and even though his hands burn and blister under the water, he can’t stop until he gets through enough repetitions. Jared has to pull him away from the sink and into a hug to get him to stop.
Mike isn’t the only character struggling: Mel is a recovering anorexic who was previously hospitalized, Henna struggles with the loss of her ex boyfriend, and Jared has his own mental issues. Without going into too much detail, a scene towards the end of the story has Mike talk about his OCD with a therapist in the most accurate, respectful, and real way the disorder has been covered in fiction that I’ve ever seen. These issues aren’t exploited, but they aren’t ignored. They are an integral part of the characters’ lives and treated in a far more realistic way than the genre normally tackles.
The Rest Of Us Just Live Here is a fascinating addition to the “teenage hero saves the world,” part of YA, and it’s an addition that’s earned its place. We get so invested in Mike, his friends, and all of their struggles that we barely remember there is an alien invasion on the horizon.
Patrick Ness allows us to glimpse into the lives and hardships of the characters often left behind for the sake of adventure and escapism. This story infuses real conversations about mental health with enough humor to keep it from becoming oppressive. And with just a little over 300 pages, it’s a light read that I cannot recommend enough. If you’re looking for a fresh take on YA with real, respectful conversations about mental health, this is the book for you.
About the author: EJ’s writing passion is a mix, though most of it is focused on the young adult genre. She seeks to put her own spin on genres like urban fantasy, slice of life, and classic teen mystery. She’s also always eager and ready to talk about writing craft and style, particularly when it comes to point of view.
When she’s not writing, EJ formulates story ideas while crocheting or taking a walk. Even away from her keyboard, she’s always writing. Words and language are her passion: her studies of Writing, Communication Studies, and Applied Linguistics would be enough to show for that. You can find EJ on Twitter at @andromeda_falls