Within the space of a few weeks, I have read four Ness books. After finishing The Rest of us Just Live Here, I now only have one Ness to go: A Monster Calls. And since that particular unread Ness is going to be a movie at some point this year, I really need to read it!
The thing about Ness is that he is simply a genius. He just is. I actually don’t think it’s possible to OD Ness because each and every one of his books is just as good as the others. There is no slacking off with Ness. No, he just keeps getting better. Or just exploring new facets of his genius. I am yet to be disappointed by Ness and I doubt that he is capable of disappointing readers anyway.
The Rest of us Just Live Here is an amazing YA adventure/sci-fi/fantasy novel that pokes fun at the other YA adventure/sci-fi/fantasy novels that exist in the world, As the title suggests, this book is about everyone else. Those who aren’t the chosen ones. Those that have to keep living their lives in spite of whatever happens because of the epic battle between good and evil happening around them. It is glorious.
Our protagonist is Michael and we watch him try to navigate his last few weeks/months at high school before graduation, hoping that the ‘indie kids” don’t blow up the school in their quest to save the world. To explain, the “indie kids” are the heroes. There’s a little band of them who are always running around in the background trying to save everything while Michael is trying to deal with the minutiae of life in a small town. But Ness makes fun of these guys in the most delicious way possible. At the beginning of every chapter there’s a little summary of what the indie kids are doing while Michael and his friends are planning their futures. The best example is at the beginning of ‘Chapter the Tenth…’
…in which indie kids Joffrey and Earth disappear from their homes, their bodies found miles away; Satchel goes into hiding at an abandoned drive-in with fellow indie kids Finn, Dylan, Finn, Finn, Lincoln, Archie, Wisconsin, Finn, Aquamarine, and Finn.
Not only does Ness make fun of YA heroes’ usual names, but he also makes fun of their usual appearance (imagine stereotypical hipsters). It’s sublime. And the plot of the “indie kid” chapter summary is just plain ridiculous. But then, eventually, the two stories coalesce and it’s just … cool.
But focusing on the actual main plot of the book now. Michael has OCD. The absolute bad kind. The kind where he gets stuck in a loop of washing his hands over and over until his fingertips bleed and everything hurts and he still can’t stop. It is horrible, eye-opening, and utterly realistic. Michael’s friends are all aware of his OCD and help him to battle it, especially Jared (who, true to form in this novel is a descendant of a god, but he isn’t an indie kid. He just tries to live his life. Ahh, this book is amazing), but we also see the stigma attached to OCD. We see Michael’s OCD swept under the rug by his politician mother. God I hate his mother.
But Michael’s OCD isn’t the only mental illness tackled. Michael’s sister, Mel, nearly died after an incredibly awful episode of anorexia and she is still dealing with the fallout. Plus, Michael and Mel (and Meredith, the baby sister)’s dad is an alcoholic. And all four of them somehow have to present a wholesome family vibe to help the mother’s political campaign. Michael’s home life sucks. But, you know, in an everyday kind of way. Not like how Jace and Clary or Harry and Ron or Tess and Will’s lives suck. These are everyday problems (because, yes, mental health issues are an everyday occurrence. Out of everyone you’ve met, a huge percentage of them have been touched by mental health issues), these problems just happen to exist in an extraordinary world where different generations of townsfolk have had to deal with different sci-fi/fantasy issues.
Ness tackles each of these issues with the grace and finesse that I have come to expect from him. Like how Ness tackled Seth’s depression in More Than This. In fact, my favourite scene was the entirety of ‘Chapter the Sixteenth’. This particular chapter is entirely dialogue. Michael and his therapist spend the chapter in conversation. There is no prose, just dialogue. And it is so well done that I nearly wept. Plus, Michael’s therapist brings up a point that I always try and make myself, but I never seem to have the words. So I’m going to write them here:
“Do you think a child born with spin bifid a or cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy is at fault for their condition?”
“Then why in heaven’s name are you responsible for your anxiety?”
“Why are you responsible for your anxiety?”
“Because it’s a feeling. Not a tumour.”
“A feeling is pride in your sister. A feeling is fear at the concert that makes you act. A feeling is embarrassment or shame. a feeling may or may not be true, but you still feel it.”
“And anxiety is a tumour on your feelings?”
“Feelings don’t try to kill you, even the painful ones. Anxiety is a feeling grown too large. A feeling grown aggressive and dangerous. You’re responsible for its consequences, you’re responsible for treating it. But Michael, you’re not responsible for causing it. You’re not morally at fault for it. No more than you would be for a tumour.”
Boom. I definitely could not have said it better myself. I want this tattooed all over my body. I want it painted on the apartment that I will eventually have (you know, when I’m forty). I want this to be my ringtone. Because that snippet is it. That is why the stigma around mental illness is stupid.
I just checked my word count and so after this last point, I’m going to wrap this review up.
In the rest of the Ness books I have read, Ness plays around with structure. A lot. He uses brackets and unfinished sentences and line breaks. In The Rest of us Just Live Here, though, Ness only plays around with structure insofar as he has two simultaneous story lines. There are no interrupted sentences because, and it took me until the end of the book to realise this, of Michael’s OCD. He would not be able to deal with so many broken loops, for lack of a better term. And so Ness doesn’t use them. His characterisation goes down to the structural level. I love you, Patrick Ness.
This will come as no surprise at all but I give The Rest of us Just Live Here:
P.S. In true Ness form, both the title and the cover image come into play throughout the book. I love it so much!