(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Great Balls of Fire, by Jerry Lee Lewis (Spotify, YouTube).
The idea of the "Chosen One" is so central to most fantasy novels that sometimes it seems almost unavoidable. My impression is that, as a trope, it is clearly reactionary: if you are not somehow special, then you won't be able to defeat The Evil. It doesn't matter how hard you try, if you don't have the gift you won't ever make a difference. And, of course, having the gift does not depend on something you can do, but on who your parents are or on other fortuitous events that almost always set even before you are born.
Thus, I am always interested in works that try to subvert the idea of the Chosen One (for instance, Adam-Troy Castro has written against this trope many times) and that's why I had high hopes in All The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness's newest novel. What if, for once, the important kids (indie kids, as they are called in the book) that are destined for great deeds and fight, on a daily basis, to save the world from utter destruction were not that important? What if, for once, the normal kids, the secondary characters that you only get to see when they suffer collateral damage were the main protagonists?
That is what The Rest of Us Just Live Here tries to accomplish and something that Ness, formally, achieves in a completely brilliant way. The beginning of each chapter quickly outlines what you are supposed to find next, with paragraphs like this one:
CHAPTER THE FIFTH, in which indie kid Kerouac opens the Gate of the Immortals, allowing the Royal Family and its Court a fissure through which to temporarily enter this world; then Kerouac discovers that the Messenger lied to him; he dies, alone.
But then, when you turn the page, you find nothing of that story. No Kerouac, no Immortals, no Royal Family, and you only get to know that something strange is happening in the background through glimpses, when the indie kids cross paths with Mike, Mel, Jared or any of the actual protagonists of the novel. I give it to the author that this process of deconstructing the typical YA fantasy plot is right on spot and, with just a few pages, he gets to defeat all our expectations as readers.
However, in my opinion, The Rest of Us Just Live Here utterly fails as a novel. Just subtracting something is not enough; you need to replace it with something else, and that something else must be more interesting, more relevant than what you took away. Sadly, Ness removes one big cliché only to replace it with... a lot of other, even bigger clichés.
In The Rest of Us Just Live Here you won't find a magical little girl destined to save the world fighting again the old, ugly lord of all evil things. But instead you will find a group of teenagers a few weeks before High School prom and all the typical problems of teenagers a few weeks before High School prom. And little else.
The novel is, then, just another instance of a story that we've read (and watched) a zillion times. The love triangle, the anorexic girl, the absent mother, the gay friend, the alcoholic father... You name it, you have it. Ness correctly guessed that most of us don't want to read again about the Chosen One, but I don't know why he thought that we would be interested in reading, once again, about anxious teenagers discovering love and trying to find their place in life. I, for one, have had more than my fair share of it.
So, yes, I get the point: normal is good and there is not such a thing as fate and predestination to great deeds. But, you know what? I already knew that and don't need to read another trite coming of age novel to realize. And, on the other hand, normal might very well be good but it also is, in many occasions, very boring. I have enough normal in my daily and, ehhhh, normal life, thank you very much.