Seven billion timelines, seven billion destinies, seven billion stories; all roaming the Earth as I write this very sentence. Some of these souls will go on to save babies from burning buildings, construct water wells in Africa, or perhaps become the infamous overlord of a tyrannical dictatorship. In any case, hero or villain, few of us ever actually experience the spotlight. As Patrick Ness aptly puts it with his latest book, the rest of us just live here. Just because we’re hovering on the outskirts of greatness though, bearing witness to others glory, doesn’t mean that we can’t find the extraordinary in our own ordinary. Maybe that means graduating high school, or asking your dream girl out, or even just making it through today. Celebrating not the Katniss Everdeen and Harry Potter’s of the world, but instead you and me, Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a story for the leftovers. So is that one guiding truth the greatest selling point of the book? Or a drawback impossible to overlook?
Let the record show that I love Patrick Ness. His last story, More Than This, truly was a jack of all trades and as such earned the distinction of being my favorite book of 2014. Beyond that he’s also proved himself a very capable children’s writer with A Monster Calls, bringing to life the idea British author Siobhan Dowd was never able to see completed. I was hoping The Rest of Us Just Live Here could be a dark horse, end of the year, contender for top honors in my 2015 Reading Year In Review. Unfortunately, no such luck. In my eyes there’s two main problems that held a very unique plot with lots of potential back from anything more than so-so. The first is a built in issue given the subject manner, but one that could have been alleviated with more innovative characterization tactics. That is to stay, I just didn’t care about any of the people involved in the story. Yes, I understand that in keeping with the plot they had to be very everyday, normal, routine characters plucked straight off the street but all those words are not synonymous with mundane; which is exactly how I would describe Mikey and Company. They’re not entertaining in the least, and honestly if their group truly did show a measure of resemblance to actual people the world would be a very dull place to be. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the “Chosen One” indie kids existing in the concurrent storyline (this parody, by the way, is hilarious and perhaps one of the few redeeming factors of the book) are having a lot more fun almost dying than Mikey is figuring out his existential crisis. Because yes, while reflecting on upcoming life changes is a huge part of any seniors last year at home- it doesn’t have to be dull. More than the sulking and brooding nature of the monotonous narrator though, was the absolutely horrible quasi-love interest/best friend Henna. Basically all she does the entire book is act like an uppity snob, whilst generally treating Mikey like a pile of dirt (he’s a total and utter pushover as well, by the way), and then justifying her jerkish actions as in “the spirit of exploration”. Umm, no. Though she’s a total hedonist who’d rightly fit in with the so-called indie kids, it wasn’t really the character flaw that bothered me so much as the way Ness never allowed her to receive the fallout for her actions. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt in a lot of ways Mikey was absolutely justified in his judgements, even if they were made in haste, and for her to just write them off and have him simply accept it as fact really rubbed me the wrong way. Besides that the other main characters were okay, though I was not terribly invested in any of their individual storylines. In many instances the plot could have gone on in the exact same way without them and their input.
This lack of attachment to the characters leads me to my second issue; Ness’s writing itself. Not that it isn’t fabulous even here- he’s a rare breed that can pull off unapologetic quirk with genuine heartfelt- but more so that contemporary itself is just not his strong suit. You could argue that all of his previous works are science fiction or fantasy that still touch on real world issues among its characters, and too that I absolutely agree (yet another thing that sets his stories apart). But though he clearly knows the correct formula for writing real world characters that resonate, it’s now clear the aspect of developing said characters in a “normal” world is a matter lost on him. It might not seem like a big deal, at least I certainly thought not before reading, but in terms of moving the plot along it turns out Ness needs a linear conflict to solve in order for his characters to grow in an interesting way. You see previously Ness had a ready to go climax, complete with plenty of little ups and downs for truths to come out and dynamic tensions to unfold. It’s not a lazy way of writing, but it is a more forgiving tactic in terms of storytelling. The Rest of Us Just Live Here on the other hand is an entirely character driven book, with nothing in terms of action and adventure actually happening. Not only does this mean the readers entire opinion of the book hinges on the cast, but that in order to really nail those characters there has to be a lot of palpable hidden meanings in conversations, plenty of inner monologues whereas souls are bared, and a good dose of dramatic irony to aid the way. None of that actually happened though, meaning the story went nowhere. Please know though that I definitely think that in time and with lots of redrafts Ness can come to master the subtle nuisances of character writing, and when that happens he’ll be unstoppable. He definitely aced a lot of criteria, but in the end he just couldn’t pull together the full package.
Has anyone else read The Rest of Us Just Live Here? What were your thoughts? In any case happy reading!