Patrick Ness is no stranger to writing fantastical fiction for young adults. But his latest novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, focuses on the side of a story that the genre rarely tells — the side of the normal kids. Amid preparation for two projects — a 2016 film based on his novel A Monster Calls as well as Class, which has been described as a YA Doctor Who — Ness chose this time to tell the story of the ones not tasked with fighting off the monsters, but rather with just getting through daily life while that kind of action happens in the background.
“It honestly started as kind of a joke about the slightly unusual names of YA heroes now,” Ness tells EW. “And they’re always just a bit removed from reality. There are names you might have heard of, but you don’t know anybody called that — particularly the number of heroes called Finn.” Ness uses those types of heroes for a background plot, a sort of comical aside at the beginning of each chapter that tells the reader what’s going on in the larger scope of the town he’s writing about before getting back to the main characters.
“But mainly it came from the question of, well, all these people get their books, but what about somebody who’s just called Mike? . . . The rest of this is kind of the book of Mike, the kid who’s going to be the chosen one.”
Ness isn’t dissing stories that follow the heroes — he’s written a few of his own — but when nodding to the genre, he focuses on Harry Potter or the Hunger Games and acknowledges that both sides of the story are important to young adults.
“I think there are two periods of real change in the life of a teenager,” he says, “and the first is when you first become a teenager and you say, for the first time ever, ‘I am a separate individual from my family. I am something different from them.’ And that’s vital — we have to go through it. But it’s also painful, and it’s very, very isolating. The chosen one narrative takes that feeling of isolation, and it gives it a reason, because you are different. . . . And I never want to take that narrative away, because I think it has real truth to so many young readers.”
But the second period of anxiety, Ness says, happens when someone approaches the end of the teenage years and is faced with nothing but change. “I thought the chosen one narrative is great for the first period, but for the second one, what if you’re a kid who feels like, ‘God, I’m so worried about this. I would never even be the chosen one. I would never even be the one who gets picked. . . .’ [It’s] exploring the real anxiety of what happens as the end of high school approaches.”
Ness says it was important for him to deal with anxiety in The Rest of Us Just Live Here. The main character, Mikey, suffers from extreme OCD.
“I meet all different kinds of teenagers from all different kinds of walks of life and the issue of anxiety, of worry, is so much more common than we even think now,” he says. “You meet teenagers who are just consumed with it, and I remember myself being consumed with it. What’s going to happen? What am I going to do next? It manifests itself in different ways, and for me it manifested itself as really quite bad OCD. Like Mikey, I worked in a restaurant, and like Mikey, there was a time when I would wash my hands so often that they would bleed because I washed all of the oil out of them. . . . I want to write about this in a true way, where it’s not an issue with a capital ‘I,’ but it’s what this guy is going through.”
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is now available for purchase.