This blog is about apocalyptic and dystopian novels, so I struggled with the idea of reviewing After the End by Amy Plum as it’s about an apocalypse that never actually happened! However, the concept is novel enough that I wanted to write about it, and after all the main character Juneau was raised thinking that an apocalypse and WWIII had happened.
Juneau, like the other children in her clan, was told by her elders that they are the survivors of the apocalypse. There may be other remnants of survivors, but if there are, they might be contaminated by radiation and be hostile to the clan which has carved out a healthy and peaceful life in the wilds of Alaska. Therefore, Juneau, like the rest of the younger members has never crossed the borders set by the elders. After all, she is nothing if not responsible as she will become the clan’s next Sage as she is the best at Reading and Conjuring. This is where I felt a bit let down, when the potential emphasis of the psychological effects of finding out your whole life has been a lie was underplayed in favor of a fantasy/supernatural element.
I also did not like that due to the book’s descriptions on seller websites and the book jacket itself that I went into the story knowing that there hadn’t been a WWIII and that Juneau had been lied to. I would have much preferred not to know that going into it as then it could have been a great M. Night Shyamalan effect similar to The Village. I wanted to feel what Juneau felt, to believe that while the world outside was gone, my people had been strong and survived. Then to experience along with her the shock of finding out the modern world was right outside my doorstep and that all my beliefs were now open to question. Unfortunately, I was not given this gift by the bookseller websites or jacket. Yet I once read a similar story in which the secret of a boy who had spent the last eight years in a bunker was not revealed prior to reading the story, so it can be done, therefore I don’t know why the publishers went this direction. Maybe because as I mentioned the book was more focuses on this woo woo stuff then what I think is far more complex and interesting.
There were some good observations of the downfalls of the modern world by Juneau, though there could have been many more of those, that would have strengthened the conceit that although WWIII didn’t actually happen, it still could. Instead, there was the typical road trip with car chases mysterious government and conspiracy types and an unlikely romance. Really, the author doesn’t show any respect for her main character to think that this fearsome warrior girl would have any interest in a boy she describes as not being able to survive in the wilderness for 15 minutes. It’s not just that Miles doesn’t have her skills, he is a spoiled and weak rich kid who has made bad choices with the advantages he has been given, really, what’s to like? How can we as readers respect Juneau as a female leader and the potential savior of her clan when she is distracted by such a flirtation? Is it a given that every piece of YA apocalyptic fiction has include a romantic relationship? Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is one of the most powerful books of this genre I have read and it didn’t include a teen romance. In fact, I would argue that it cut deeper because the fairytale of romance didn’t intrude on the harsh reality of Miranda’s life as her focus is on helping her family survive.