“Chapter the First, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.
On the day we’re the last people to see indie kid Finn alive, we’re all sprawled together in the field, talking about love and stomachs.”
Mikey lives in rural Washington with his two sisters, his politician mother, and his alcoholic father. He is devastatingly obsessive compulsive, has a huge crush on one of his best friends, Henna, and has fooled around with his other best friend, Jared, so he leads a pretty typically complicated teen life. His hometown is also pretty typical aside from the fact that everyone occasionally has to deal with the odd soul-sucking ghost or plague of vampires. Dealing with these supernatural crises usually falls on the shoulders of the indie kids, teens with names like Finn and Satchel and feelings that they need space to work through. This leaves Mikey and his gang of quasi-normal buds on the sidelines, for the most part anyways. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the story of their senior year of high school, of lives creeping towards Big Changes while, in the meantime, a plague of Immortals tries to wipe out the indie kids and open a portal to their dimension so that they can descend upon the earth like a plague of magical locusts, as told in the deliciously detailed chapter titles.
Every time I start a Patrick Ness book I have to mentally brace myself for emotional devastation. I have never read a book of his that didn’t make me (at a bare minimum) cry, but usually “crying” is closer to “making a horrible gasping, screaming sound, as if someone were trying to choke me while I was sobbing” (hello, Knife of Never Letting Go and A Monster Calls). As a matter of fact, I cannot even THINK about A Monster Calls without getting a little wet around the eyeballs. That being said, I can say with total confidence that my eyes only stung a little bit without actually overflowing into tears when I read The Rest of Us Just Live Here, and I think the only reason I even got a smidge misty was due to Ness’s ability to write about the kind of mental illness that I have struggled with for much of my life. I’ve never been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, but I have dealt with various mental health issues since I was a kid and I felt this book pretty fucking hard as a result. It made my eyes smart, but it might not make yours smart, is what I’m trying to say here.
When I wasn’t on the verge of tears, reading this book made my heart so full of book love that I thought it was going to burst out of my chest like a less-terrifying baby Alien. Though, I guess any sort of chest bursting scenario is kind of terrifying, but at least you don’t have to worry about my heart bleeding acid or whatever. Anywho. The Rest of Us Just Live Here has a lot of the trappings that I adore in a work of fiction. The characters are meticulously developed; they are flawed yet still likeable, and Mikey is a wonderfully unreliable narrator. The fierceness with which the various characters love and annoy each other creates an overall picture of the differing types of human attachment, and how important they all are in their own ways. At first the interpersonal dynamics between characters and bizarre premise are equally baffling, but as the narrative unfolds pieces fall into place, nuances sharpen, and the full picture is very rewarding.
The fantastical element of the narrative takes a secondary role to the web of relationships between characters and their consuming Big Issues. The bulk of the magic occurs in the secondary narrative that takes place in the chapter headings, and I’m sorry but this contextual framework was just so fucking clever that I could kiss Patrick Ness right on his mouth. However, even though magic mostly just caresses the lives of the main characters, it’s still vitally important and is always done well, with a blush of dramatic irony since Mikey et al usually perceive Immortal business as magical nonsense while we, the readers, know a little bit of what’s going on thanks to the chapter headings.
I almost managed to write this entire review without commenting on the queer element to the story, which is funny because it’s SUPER queer, but in such an understated way that I almost forgot that was even a major part of it, if that makes sense. This is one of the first YA genre novels I’ve read in which being gay was not equated with trauma; two of the central characters are very much not straight, but this is not a central or even secondary focus of the narrative. I especially appreciated the fact that Mikey’s sexual fluidity is never something that needs to be defined. He wonders about it sometimes, but seeking a label for his sexual orientation is never a pressing force in his narrative. Jared experiences some friction from Mikey’s parents due to him being gay, but that is the extent of negativity associated with him being open about his identity. While many young people face an array of different traumas associated with their queerness, I think it’s tremendously important for fiction to present readers with the possibility that coming out and being a big old gay is not necessarily going to be the worst thing ever, and I applaud Ness for putting a fantastical face on this kind of story.
Bottom line: this is a knockout. With The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness has managed to balance the utterly strange with heart-wrenchingly resonant. Ness’s exploration of friendship and the different ways people can love each other, even in a fantastical alternate reality, reads true. The simultaneous chapter heading story and chunky meat of the narrative play off each other in a way that is scrumptiously meta that also emphasizes the limitations of personal perspective. The whole thing is so clever, and so very Patrick Ness, and I loved it to pieces.