In Patrick Ness’ newest novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness asks the question, what if you aren’t the Chosen One? In a market saturated with young adult novels that are centered around a main character with a hidden secret, undiscovered powers, or who become revolutionary figures, Ness champions the extraordinary in every ordinary person.
Mikey lives in a Midwestern small town that’s everything one might expect. Except for the occasional supernatural occurrences. But as Mikey points out, those are dealt with by “the Indie kids,” and everyone else just tries not to be caught in the crossfire. For Mikey, he’s just trying to make it through prom and graduation and hoping one of the Indie kids doesn’t blow up the school before then.
Even though he’s not the one trying to solve the mystery of the blue light that’s resurrecting dead animals, Mikey has his own slew of problems to deal with. He suffers from sever OCD. His sister Mel is a recovering anorexic. His dad is an alcoholic. His mother is a politician who is so focused on furthering her ambitions that she only cares about portraying the image of a perfect American family. Mikey’s friend Jared is sneaking around and keeping secrets. And oh yeah, Mikey’s in love with his best friend Henna, who is adamantly not in love with him.
We’ve all been the supporting character in someone else’s story. We’ve all felt secondary in the narratives going on around us and wondered when we would get to feel like main character for a change. This novel is a response to those times.
While those prevalent stories of 17-year-old chosen ones and revolutionary symbols (looking at you Divergent and Hunger Games) are entertaining in their own right, they’re not realistic. That’s not just because we don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world that forces children to kill each other or adheres to a strict system based on segregation of values. We’ll probably never be approached to lead a revolution. We’ll never be told we’re secretly the missing prince or princess or the person prophesied about. These themes are rampant in YA right now. There’s a wish fulfillment in those types of stories. But as Ness’ novel does, it’s good to be reminded that it’s okay not to be those things. It’s okay, and even extraordinary in it’s own right, to just be ordinary because being ordinary doesn’t mean being normal or being unimportant.
Ness’ move is daring. Other authors would choose to tell or focus more on the supernatural elements of the story. Ness does it just in passing mention, as an almost inconsequential plot element. That story is summarized in a few sentences at the beginning of each chapter. It’s not nearly as interesting or engaging as Mikey’s story. The novel is layered and his point is resounding. You don’t have THE hero to be A hero.
Ness is no stranger to daring moves. His other prominent work, The Chaos Walking Trilogy, is told in broken, sometimes nearly undecipherable English. The main character of that novel, Todd Hewiit, is woefully uneducated, and Ness reflects that in his narration and voice. That skill of fully channeling the voice of a character is one that Ness excels at, and one that he is again able to utilize in The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
Narrated from the perspective of Mikey, it’s simultaneously sarcastically funny and emotionally resonant. Mikey is a character who has been dealt his fair share of tribulations and to somehow remain optimistic. Because Ness is such a brilliant narrator, that optimism isn’t false or forced, but incredibly fulfilling. It’s one of the strongest aspects of the novel.
By inverting and subverting the current YA novel, Ness is able to give a fresh look on ordinariness. All of the characters are thought out and engaging. It’s a novel for readers of all ages, even adults, who maybe need to be reminded of the angst of teenage years or even themselves need to be reminded that there’s no need to feel like you need to be “The One.” Ness is an author that I’ve been a fan of since I first picked up The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first of The Chaos Walking Trilogy. He’s able to craft and tell a story like few authors can, and I look forward to picking up any and all future works he produces.