My love of reading stemmed from a love of superhero comics, specifically Superman. Oddly enough, as a kid I never really dreamed of being The Man of Steel – trying to be more like Clark Kent always seemed a more realistic aspiration, and I reckon I’ve nailed the whole ‘mild mannered’ part of his shtick – but I often imagined what it must be like to live in Metropolis, amidst all the craziness that ensues in a world of super-heroics. What would it be like living on the periphery, never actively involved, bearing witness to epic encounters? As a citizen of Metropolis, would you be looked down upon if you wanted to be less like Jimmy Olsen – Superman’s best pal, always in the thick of the action – and more like John Smith, the everyman who’ll happily settle for a quiet family life?
Mikey, whose mind we inherit in the latest Young Adult novel from superstar author Patrick Ness, lives in a world that has been touched by zombies, soul-eating ghosts, and basically every menace that has punctuated the YA genre in recent years. Mikey’s never been involved in these encounters – he’s just lived his life and dealt with obligatory teenage angst that accompanies the end of high school. And sure, there’s a touch of the fantastical about his best friend, who possess God-like powers because, well, he’s part-God – but really, Mikey and his friends are just your average teens. Which is precisely what makes THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE so great.
Against the backdrop of an epic conflict between beings known as the Immortals and some ‘indie’ kids at school – intentionally derivative of the stories we’ve all read before, and concisely annotated in chapter headings – Ness’s novel focuses on the issues afflicting Mikey and his gang of pals in the lead-up to prom and the beginning of their college lives. There’s Henna, the girl he has been crushing on for years, but is now potentially eternally ‘friend-zoned;’ his alcoholic father; his mother’s run for the senate; not to mention the consequences of having a best friend with unbelievable abilities, who is hiding an even bigger secret. Despite all the wackiness, these feel like real people existing in a world with similarities to our own, just embellished with elements of the supernatural.
This is a heartening novel about friendship. These characters might not be the ‘chosen ones’ – they’re not the traditional heroes we associate with YA fiction – but they’re heroes in their own right, kids who’ve overcome life’s many obstacles, which we’ve all faced, who are now preparing for the next step on their journey. Written with wit and efficacy, THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE shows we’re all heroes. But not all of us get the limelight – and not all of us want it!