Patrick Ness proved his YA writing chops with A Monster Calls (soon to be a major motion picture!). In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness flips the “chosen one” trope over and puts it on the back burner. Ever-present in literature (particularly of the fantasy genre), the “chosen ones” are known for their ability to bear the weight of the world while they battle the forces of darkness/evil/supernatural to save the day.
But what if the plights and perils of the chosen ones – or “indie kids”, using Ness’ terminology – were secondary to the real story? What if the real story lay with the never-gonna-be-chosens? The no-way-never-indie kids? The sidekicks? The acquaintances? What if instead of Harry Potter, we had Seamus Finnigan? What if the Hunger Games was Prim’s story, not Katniss’?
In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness cleverly puts the indie kids in the background. Each chapter begins with a small, bolded excerpt of the latest indie kid development before quickly turning to Mikey and his friends. Set against the backdrop of “a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of a city that takes about an hour to get to,” Mikey just wants to get through his last month of senior year. Sure he’s worried the indie kids might have to blow up the school again, but he has bigger concerns. Will he be able to puzzle out his feelings for Henna before she leaves on a mission trip to the Central African Republic? Why is Mikey’s OCD deciding now is the right time to get worse? Maybe Mikey has more to cope with than the typical indie kid. He may not be battling blue-eyed zombie people, but he looks after his older sister Mel while she recovers from anorexia, shields his younger sister from the worst influences of his politically driven mom and alcoholic dad, and tries to support his best friend Jared: the cat whisperer (you’ll see).
Ness asks us to consider what it really means to be chosen, and Mikey must face what it really means to be a hero. I loved this book for two reasons: 1. it is good, and 2. it harks back to one of my top 5 favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes: season 3, episode 13 The Zeppo. It is the moment when Buffy, literally the Chosen One, and her apocalyptic battles take a backseat to Xander. The best friend. The one with no powers. The sidekick. The one who just gets knocked out by vampires on the reg. In that episode, Xander finds the opportunity to be a hero. Maybe Mikey finds that chance in The Rest of Us Just Live Here.