What if you weren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions…
I’m rather conflicted about this novel. There were things I enjoyed, and Ness’s sense of humour is great — it’s more gentle, which I liked. But, when you step back and think about it, the premise of this novel is “Everything interesting happens elsewhere to other people”… Which is a pretty interesting move. It’s not quite like that, of course, as Mikey isn’t quite as distant from things as we’re led to believe. In fact, it’s really a case of “the most interesting and explode-y things happen elsewhere, but some pretty interesting and potentially weird stuff happens over here, too”. I read the novel quickly, chuckling not infrequently, but I’m still not entirely sure if I liked it. Which made it tricky to review…
The characters are pretty good. I never quite clicked with them all, as I felt they were mostly predictable and just a tad bland. Except, of course, for Jared,* who is a demigod of cats. Yes. This is actually rather fun, the way it’s woven into the story and what it means for Mikey and his friend group. They’re dealing with their various issues, both anticipating and apprehensive of their upcoming high school graduation. They go through the usual identity crises, and their normal lives continue, touched with a bit more due to the never-ending battles that the “indie kids” are waging off-stage. Whether it’s Mikey’s unrequited love with his best friend, or his OCD; his family’s experiences as his mother runs for office, and many other issues.
The kids who are dealing with the vampires, apocalypse, etc., are referred to as the “indie kids”, which I did find pretty amusing — each chapter begins with an epigraph, explaining what they’re up to (complete with references to what many will have seen in Buffy and other series of that ilk). They all have ridiculous names, too, which was equally amusing when they’re first mentioned. The “normals” go through life knowing full-well that weird stuff is going on (it has been for generations), but also fully aware that it’s not for them. Later in the novel, we get a bit more between the teens and elder generations, who also experienced similar things, but have clearly put the past into a box labelled, Things We Don’t Talk About. Because It’s Really Weird. Or something like that…
Ness’s prose is excellent, and the novel flowed extremely well, for the main. There were times, though, when the natural flow came to a clunky halt: these were times when it felt just a little bit like, “Let Me Inform You of This Issue”. It wasn’t preachy, and I agreed with every position Ness was putting forward, but it was noticeable how the style and flow tripped as we were Informed Of Things. I know it’s a YA novel, and also the importance of including valid information on and compassionate advice about depression and so forth. But, I’m also sure it could have been done a bit smoother. And yes, I feel really (perhaps overly) critical mentioning this, but given how smoothly everything else is written, it stuck out.
Overall, I can say that I really enjoyed Ness’s sense of humour, and also the concept of the novel. But, in execution, it left me dissatisfied and, at times, a little bored. Many people will love it, of course, but it just didn’t work for me as well as I’d hoped. If you are a fan of Buffy and other TV/films about the Chosen One, and always wanted to know what the rest of the school students were up to, The Rest of Us Just Live Here should appeal.
* “Jared Shurin”, too. Who is also known as one of the founders/editors/writers of the exceptional website Pornokitsch. This amused me. (Incidentally, if you read/follow just one blog, make it Pornokitsch.)