Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

"For the rest of this, I'm choosing my own story.  Because if you can't do that, you might as well just give up."



This is a book about the background characters in every Chosen One story you've ever read.  The nameless faces that the special teens pass in the halls as they are wracked with indecision over whether to date the hot, mysterious, and dangerous immortal fae, or stay with the safe, sweet boy next door.  This is a narrative of the kids who actually, you know, have to go to school and apply to college and deal with family crap with no hope of any sort of paranormal intervention.  And hey, you know what?  It's pretty good not being an Indie.  At least you probably won't end up betrayed, dead, or sacrificed as the next avatar to the Immortal Queen of Time (or whatever).

Mike, the narrator, and his friends Henna, Jared, and sister Mel are all normal kids.  Definitely not Indie kids; you know, the kids who end up having epic high school romances, or who fall in love with witches, or who end up being the Chosen One.  But they live in a Washington town where everything paranormal converges upon the Indie kids once every few years.  There was that vampire thing several years back (Henna's brother is still missing from that event--they're pretty sure he only comes out at night), and then the recent spate of kids dying of cancer, but with wit and charm.  Oh, and that time that they blew up the high school eight years ago.

But otherwise, things are normal for Mike and his friends.  So normal.  Or is normal really just ho-hum blah-dee-blah boring?  If you've ever felt like you're nothing special, like nothing ever happens to you, The Rest of Us Just Live Here will show you that even the most inconsequential parts of your life make it utterly extraordinary.

Originally, I had four paragraphs here for each of the four main characters, and then I decided that it's much better if you meet them yourselves.  So go meet them already!  Oh, you need more reasons?

I love the structure of this book: each chapter starts out as a summary of what's happened to the Indie kids so far, and then we read about what's happening to everyone else around them.  The normals.  The muggles.  The sea of faceless kids who must populate the highs schools in all these books, but who never get a chance to say their piece.  Ness' mimicry of tropes in lit is gentle, humorous, and almost loving.  It's never mean-spirited, but it's always funny, and I laughed out loud several times.  Here's an idea of what the chapter headings are like:

"Chapter the thirteenth, in which the prince is tricked into turning Satchel and second indie kid Finn over to the Empress of the Immortals; he tries to save them, butis forced to sacrifice Finn to do so; Satchel refuses to accept this and, through only her own cunning and bravery, thwarts the empress; she saves Finn and as they flee, she steals a glimpse at the Immortal Crux, the source of the Immortals' power, through the Gateway; it is full of charms and jewels, with an empty space in exactly the shape of her amulet."

When the indie kids start disappearing after running through fields, being enveloped in a strange blue light, and more, Mike and his friends realize that senior year isn't going to end normally.  But what's normal?  Mike and Mel take care of each other because their parents are too busy to be parents.  They take Meredith to see her favorite band, but when a paranormal event causes a stampede, Mike finds the strength to save his little sister.  When deer with glowing eyes flood the road and crash into Henna's car right after he tells her he loves her and she gives a rather cryptic response, Mike doesn't let go (unlike Rose in Titanic who totally let Jack fall into the icy deeps).  He's stronger than he thinks he is, which I thought was most evident when he asserted himself and asked to go back to therapy and take medicine to help him with his OCD.  Hooray!  A book that doesn't demonize medical treatment for mental illness!


The four teens know that it's a lot safer to be normal than it is to be an Indie kid, but they don't realize how special their own lives are.  How patient and caring Jared is as a friend.  How Mike is exploring his sexuality.  How they realize there are many different kinds of love.  How to ask for help.  Or forgiveness.  Or just the insanely buttery goodness of unlimited cheesy bread.

This novel is beautifully written, thoughtful, and funny.  I would pair it with A.S. King's I Crawl Through It for a quirky, yet utterly truthful, view of what teens face in high school today.

There are also a lot of cats.  So if that has any bearing ... LOTS OF CATS.


2 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! I heard the author speak about it on the radio the other day, very interesting!

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  2. I think anything Ness writes is bound to be good.

    But poor Manchee. I will mourn Manchee forever.

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