Chapter The First, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate
On the day we’re the last people to see indie kid Finn alive, we’re all sprawled together in the Field, talking about love and stomachs.
“I don’t believe that, though,” my sister says, and I look up at the slight tension in her voice. She gives me a half-annoyed nod of reassurance in the sunshine, then shakes her head again at Henna. “You always have a choice. I don’t care if you think it’s love – and by the way, NOT a word you should throw around so easily – but even if that, even if that word, you can still choose to act right.”
“I said I loved that way he looked,” Henna says. “I didn’t say I loved him. You’re twisting my words. And that’s not what I’m talking about anyway. i’m talking about… how your heart fills up. Actually, no, it’s not even your heart, it’s your stomach. You feel it and everything just goes.”
Patrick Ness is very surely one of my favourite authors to date. There’s something about the way that this man writes novels that gets me. It’s not even always a tugging of the heartstrings but sometimes I have to go back and re-read passages again and again just to truly realise how beautiful they are. And lots of his writing is insanely beautiful; a view seconded by John Green according to the back of this limited addition copy I own. This novel is no different!
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is told through the 1st person of Mikey. He’s about to graduate from High School and head off to College, but he just has to get through the last few weeks. He has a very tight knit group of friends including his sister, Mel, his best friend, Jared, and the girl he is hopelessly in love with, Henna. However running alongside their story, is one about the indie kids, told in 3rd person at the beginning of every chapter, fighting the threat of the Immortals.
The way that this story is told is one of the things that took me a while to get my head around. The only real insight we get into the main threat is through these chapter descriptions. It’s what made me keep reading longer, I think, because the longer I left it between reading I forgot what had happened with the indie kids, which was actually way more important than I had originally thought. All of the events that happen to them in the long run add up to the climax of the novel for Mikey; which is actually really, really impressive.
Another thing I was a little confused about when I first started reading was references to vampires and the undead etc. It took me a while to realise that, in this seemingly normal world, those things happened. They actually existed in the past of this small town and the story relies kind of heavily on you knowing that. I mean, how else are you supposed to believe in the Immortals, or what happens with the deer, if you don’t believe in the law that stands in the universe.
However, what really shocked me about this novel was Ness’ way of discussing mental health amongst teens and how it feels to suffer with it. We learn that Mel, Mikey’s sister, is a survivor of an eating disorder and we are reminded of this throughout with Mikey’s uncontrollable fear of losing her to it again. Mikey isn’t immune either. Mikey struggles with OCD and this broke my heart to read about. Not only is it like obsessively washing his hands or his face, but it’s counting the panels in a room or the corners of a sheet of paper; feeling like he’s stuck in a loop. There’s a time when he’s washing his hands at his work place and Jared comes over and turns him away, just holding him there until he’s calmed down, which nearly had me in tears.
Jared is probably one of my favourite characters in this novel. He is everything I’d probably ever want in a best friend; supportive, funny, gay and the god of cats. Yep. You read that right. God of cats. It’s my favourite best friend dynamic I’ve ever read about, even though at times it does show that not all friendships are smooth as silk. Mikey is happy to say that they’ve been together time and again just as friends, looking out for each other in their time of need, but they know that they’re just best friends. Even though they probably shouldn’t be because of their parents running against one another in the upcoming election.
Now I can’t talk about Patrick Ness without talking about how he discusses relationships. Henna is Mikey’s romantic interest in this novel and she’s not described as being the prettiest of girls but there is something about the way that she is described that lets me know how much he genuinely cares about her; as a friend and as a girlfriend. Another really interesting dynamic in this novel is Mikey’s jealousy over the new guy Nathan and how he is with Henna, who wants him to join her group. There is such an animosity between Mikey and Nathan that it almost comes across as a kind of sexual tension in places, but this is mostly resolved by the end of the novel. I won’t tell you how. But Mikey spends most of this novel confused about how Henna feels about him and if he really does want to be with her. There are definitely moments where he evidently feels that he should let go and leave her to her own life, move to college and enjoy his life.
Family is another relationship that we see throughout this novel. Mikey’s family is dysfunctional to say the least. His mother’s running for an election and his father is an alcoholic. But even with this him and Mel have to help with looking after Meredith, their 10 year old little sister who is seemingly normal. The worst thing is that Meredith is seen to be given preferential treatment because she doesn’t come with a label. This, alongside their mother’s campaigning, leads to a lot of contention when Meredith’s favourite band, Bolts of Fire, come to play a concert in their small town. All of the families present their own challenges throughout this novel. Everyone is presented with their own challenges and they are all important, even if they aren’t seen as the chosen ones.
The message that you don’t have to be the chosen one makes this novel incredibly special in my eyes. It shows that even if you’re not chosen for the biggest event, or that your friends may have it slightly easier than you; you are still important. You aren’t defined by the status of your mental health or how many fissures you’ve closed to keep out the Immortals. What matters is that you stay true to yourself. You aren’t required to be anything special, and sometimes it’s not the best thing to be named the chosen one. Especially if you’re an indie kid, in this universe.
Total pages – 345
Total read time – 3 hours 45 minutes
Rating /10 – 9
Recommend – I recommend you buy it immediately
Note to finish on quickly, after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, authors Keren David, Candy Gourlay and Keris Stainton set up a charity drive for the Red Cross. Patrick Ness auctioned off a chance to have the winner’s name in this book. This is where the name Henna Silvennoinen came from. Second place was one of Patrick Ness’ friends Jared Shurin (note the same name exactly in the novel) who agreed that if he made a donation to the Red Cross anyway his name would be in the book. I think it’s rather funny that up until this point the character was a ‘non-committed “Josh”‘. However these are just names used fictitiously.