*Serious Face Review*
If you’ve picked up a Young Adult book within the last five years, you know the drill. The plucky young protagonist, unaware of their own abilities and inner strength, will overcome insurmountable odds to defeat evil and discover their Destiny with a capital D. Mike Mitchell is not that kid, nor does he want to be.
Worrying about the last days of humanity isn’t for him, especially when the final weeks of high school are proving troublesome enough. Defeating zombies, soul-eating ghosts and discovering the mystery of the blue lights are pursuits better left to the “indie kids.”
“The Rest of Us Just Live Here” follows Mike, his sister Mel, best friend Jared, and long-time crush Henna. The foursome’s friendship is foundational in each member’s life, a place where they can air their troubles and dysfunctions. And there are plenty of those to be found – despite the fact that the indie kids are dropping like flies trying to solve the blue light mystery, it’s the everyday struggles of Mike and his friends that take center stage.
Mike wades through each day hoping he won’t get caught in an OCD loop that will drive his self-loathing up another notch. Will he be able to control his obsessive counting and washing when he goes to college and Jared isn’t there to help him break the cycle? Mel has to work to eat normally, having already delayed her graduation a year to recover from an eating disorder brought on by the stress of their imperious mother’s run for political office. And now that she’s running again, what kind of strain will that put on their already-fragile family?
Their friends’ lives aren’t picture-perfect either. Henna’s conservative parents, though loving, have a hard time understanding that Henna may have aspirations outside their plans to take the family on a mission trip to a war-torn country. Jared’s issues are a mix of the relatable and supernatural, in a nod to the extraordinary events happening in the background of the story. Is it harder to accept one’s sexuality, or the fact that cats worship him?
Secondary to the concerns of Mike and his friends is the storyline of the indie kids. Told in ultra-condensed paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter, these chunks give a satirical nod to what would be the main plot of another YA book, but not “The Rest of Us Just Live Here.” Author Patrick Ness acknowledges and incorporates today’s top YA tropes, including paranormal romance and teen heroes, with a good humor that increases the believability of his central characters without belittling books that center on such concepts. Fans of YA literature will recognize many aspects of their favorite books in these side paragraphs, and get a good laugh out of seeing them so irreverently stripped-down.
“The Rest of Us Just Live Here” does justice to the real-world struggle of growing up, moving on, and finding worth in yourself. Issues of mental health and sexuality are addressed with candor, and the male point of view is a refreshing change of pace in a female-dominated genre. Mike may not be The Chosen One, but that doesn’t make him any less important. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll make it through graduation without the indie kids blowing up the high school. Again.
Author: Patrick Ness