This isn’t a book about the heroes who save the world. Mike, his sister Mel and their friends Henna and Jared aren’t trying to save the universe, they just want to graduate before the next supernatural apocalypse destroys their school. They’re on the periphery of the action, and yet their lives are far from normal; Jared is a quarter-god, Henna’s missionary parent’s are taking her away straight after graduation and Mike and Mel’s mother is running in an election race.
The Rest of us Just Live Here brilliantly plays on the ‘chosen one’ trope. It’s the indie kids at school who constantly find themselves dragged into the supernatural crisis and the town’s adults seem conveniently oblivious to the vary obviously paranormal events happening in the town. Mike is hilariously droll about it all. It makes you realise how ridiculous shows like Teen Wolf can be, in regards to the destruction and the endless trail of bodies that inevitably follow the drama. It makes you think about the people who aren’t in the know and how their lives are affected as well.
What’s particularly striking in this novel is the way in which mental health issues and eating disorders are addressed, and the different types of scars we carry. Mel and Mike have both struggled and their road to recovery shows that these conditions aren’t black and white. It’s not as simple as that, just like any other illness you can get flare ups and it’s okay to ask for help. Mike’s OCD resonated with me in particular. It’s the first time someone has actively put into words how it feels to be trapped in that ‘loop’, to feel you have to repeat the same action again and again until you do it ‘right’, even though you have no idea what the ‘right’ way is. There’s a constant internal struggle between what you’re rational mind knows and that niggling doubt of what if. What if this one time you don’t do it and everything you worried would happen does? It’s a vicious cycle, because anxiety causes the OCD to intensify, and the OCD feeds the anxiety. As an eighteen year old I spent a lot of nights in tears because I hadn’t counted something right, or the pillows weren’t exactly lined up, or I’d touched something with my left hand instead of my right. Ness perfectly captures that frustration and it’s so heartening to see that Mike has a support system who are there to help him break that ‘loop’. Their friendship was the highlight of the book for me. So much of their communication was in the way they interacted with each other rather than what they said.
Other tropes feed into the novel but are turned on their head. Nathan, a new student at their school, arrives just as strange things start to occur but it turns out that the timing is just a coincidence. Mike and Henna have a will they/ won’t they relationship. They have missed opportunities in the past to become more than friends, and when given the chance, their relationship takes a refreshing term.
Mike and his friends may not save the day, but they save each other.