I like books with clever premises that actually deliver. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is one. It asks the question of what if you’re not the chosen one, but just a normal person living your ordinary life next to them. It has two stories in one: a Buffy-style high school urban fantasy of special people who battle vampires and gods trying to take over the world, and a coming of age story of a group of ordinary high school students who battle more personal problems that are every bit as devastating in their own way.
The first story is told in a summary at the beginning of every chapter and is referred to only fleetingly in the actual story. The main focus of the book is on Mike, the first person narrator, and his family and friends who are preparing for graduation – provided that the gods don’t blow up the school before that. They are aware of the odd things happening around them and can’t escape from getting involved in them too, but surviving an apocalypse isn’t quite as important to them as the finals, the prom and who is going with whom.
Each character has his or her own problems. Mike has OCD, his sister an eating disorder, her best friend is about to be dragged to a war-torn country to deliver the word of God, and his best friend is a god – or one third of a god anyway. Since the book is told by Mike from his point of view, his problems dominate and they get a little heavy at times. I would have wished that at least one character would be without personal demons to lighten up the mood. As is, the problems get a bit overwhelming at times, as they are all the narrative is about. But I liked Mike and his friends and wished for a happy end for all of them. And the ending is a happy one – and the apocalypse is defeated too. It’s just not as simple and rosy as in many young adult books.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the first book I’ve given five stars to this year. The stars are partly because of the dual narrative that pokes gentle fun at the chosen one trope, and partly for a cast of characters that is diverse and multi-dimensional. Mostly though, they’re because it’s a solid coming of age story with a hopeful ending that left me feeling good despite everything that happened in the book. If the ending is a bit easy, considering all the difficulties the characters faced leading to it, I don’t really care. The story is told so well that even an easy solution feels like a true victory for the characters.
This is a young adult book that has no graphic content, so it can be read by slightly younger readers too. But it has enough depth to interest readers that aren’t exactly high school students anymore. I warmly recommend it to everyone.