I have only read one other novel by Patrick Ness before (also of the YA variety) and did not like it very much, but I had heard good things about The Rest of Us Just Live Here and figured I should give it a shot: as it turns out I found this novel be well worth the read. Despite involving some fantastical elements, these magical components for the most part are only the background of the more human-centric story which the book focuses; at it’s heart, this novel is a very relatable story about figuring out life, love, and relationships during points of change.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here follows a teenage protagonist named Mikey during his last few months in high-school. Mikey is dealing with a host of issues including the thought of leaving home after graduation with his best friend, wondering about his position in his group of friends trying to express his feelings towards a friend within these last few months, worrying about his sister and her mental health following issues with eating disorders that almost killed her in the past, his mother and her relentless pursuit of power in politics, and his fathers alcoholism. On top of all of this, Mikey and his anxieties manifest themselves in the form of OCD loops of obsessive hand-washing, counting corners, locking doors multiple times, etc. Oh, and of course we can also pile on worries about staying alive and becoming collateral damage as the local “indie kids” (a rip on YA “chosen one” stories and their young protagonists with often goofy names or quirks) try and solve yet another attack on the town from some mystical or unusual event that they only get the odd piece of information about. Throughout the novel as we go through Mikey’s story, each chapter begins with a little blurb about what is going on with the indie kids and the threat to the town which would typically be the main plot in other novels, but here it is but a conduit for everything else and the lives that continue around the big bads.
One of the strongest aspects of this novel is how the characters unfold over time to show their complexities and own issues both related to the underlying threat to their town, and those that are just simply human. It felt at times that Mikey was maybe straying towards the realm of unlikeable, but as far as characters go he is extremely believable in his teenage self-centered view, and also is dealing with a lot of thoughts and anxieties that I myself have (or am still currently) dealing with in my own life: I could totally understand him and where he was coming from and honestly felt a little bit called-out like Ness was pointing a finger directly at me while writing this.
The only things that I found to be a little lacking in this novel are likely to do with the intended audience being young adults (though of course this genre can take many many forms): that is, some of the conversations, particularly those between Mikey and his therapist or his sister, felt a little over-explanatory in a way. As well, a lot of things just seemed to fall into place for a neat, lesson-learned ending. This, however, is saved by the fact that though things are happy, it’s clear that there is still growing and learning to be done, and maybe things don’t always end exactly how we want, but this doesn’t mean that this is a bad thing. Oh, and it was a little weird how much older Mikey’s sister’s boyfriend was than her considering how this meant that even though she was… 18? 19? It still meant he was just hanging out with a bunch of teenagers and, I don’t know but maybe I’m just nitpicking considering how this was really not the main focus of the whole thing.
But overall, I found The Rest of Us Just Live Here to be definitely a good read, even if just to see the story of an impending apocalypse/invasion that can only be stopped by one particularly special teenager from the point of view of someone else who isn’t directly involved but, well, lives there. Because honestly, I personally haven’t read anything from that kind of angle before, and in this case it was worth checking out.