Not everyone has to be 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 Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
And what if there are problems bigger than this weeks end of the world and you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life?
Even if your best friend might be the God of mountain lions.
Minority groups have always been pushed into the background of novels, particularly where fantasy is concerned.
They reside in the bulk of stock characters, and hover on the outskirts of the action. On occasion one might crop up as a secondary character, as part of the group that trail after the protagonist as she/he saves the day, but rarely being in the limelight themselves.
In The Rest of us Just Live Here, Ness explores the typical events of a YA fantasy novel from the perspective of these overlooked characters, representing different sexualities, disability, colour, size, age. From this turn in perspective, the background characters have flipped to consist of the ‘chosen ones,’ of which we are normally used to following as the novel’s protagonist. Rather than being unique and special, they’re indistinguishable from each other, as Ness satirises the stereotypes of the blank, one dimensional characters, usually reserved for characters of minority.
Where the plot is concerned, I was interested to see how Ness would add action to a plot where the focus was on stock characters, whose own stories are typically mundane, or non-existent. In dealing with this, he was inventive in his use of epigraph, including a sort of frame narrative at the beginning of each chapter that almost flippantly deals with all the ‘end of the world’ stuff. He uses this to poke fun at the typical YA fantasy tropes:
Chapter the fourteenth,
In which Satchel doubts the prince’s intentions toward her; he weeps, professing his eternal love, one that he’s been waiting to give for a millennia but had never found a repository for until he met Satchel…
It’s a clever, funny bit of writing that creates a necessary amount of distance between the subplot of the indie kids, and the main storyline involving Mikey and his friends. Sometimes I did feel this overshadowed the rest of the novel, and on occasion was more interested in what was happening with the indie kids than Mikey’s prom problems, and I suspect others who (like myself) like a bit more action in their novels, might find this off putting.
If The Rest of us Just Live Here had been published a year or so earlier, I definitely would have used it for my dissertation – in which I looked into the representation of disabled characters within YA fiction – and it’s because of this focus on the roles of minority characters, that the novel appealed so much to me in the first place. For that reason I’d say it’s a must read for anyone interested in how minority characters are portrayed in fantasy.
Additionally, this brought to mind the novel Hero by Perry Moore, which focusses on a group of characters of minority as they try to find their place in the world of superheroes. I read it years ago, but always remember what wonderfully developed characters it had – each one distinctive and fully developed. I won’t be adding a review for that one, but if I did, a definite 5/5!
For now though:
The Rest of us Just Live Here