City of Savages

My sister and I are nothing alike, so I related to the relationship between Skye and Phee in City of Savages by Lee Kelly. I mean the nature vs. nurture debate doesn’t really explain how two closely related people could be so different. I mean think about the nature argument, while siblings don’t share the exact same genetic material unless they are twins, they share more genetic material than two unrelated strangers would. When it comes to nurture, unless the siblings were separated and grew up in different households, they live in close quarters, are raised by the same parental figure, share the same social and economic status, etc. So between shared genetics and living in the same environment, how can two siblings be so fundamentally different?

City of Savages is partly about how two very different personalities navigate the world and the relationship they have with each other and other important figures in their lives. It’s also about the way people make decisions in a disaster that affect not only themselves but the people they love most.

Skye and Phee are the daughters of a woman who survived a foreign attack on U.S. soil that decimates the population. How this woman survives being trapped in a subway car, then underground hiding from soldiers and facing starvation, wondering if her husband is dead, while taking care of her toddler and pregnant with a second child, is nothing short of a miracle. It’s understandable that she doesn’t share the horrors with her daughters, though of course they wish they knew and understood her better.

Phee admires her mother’s tough spirit, though she doesn’t understand why her mother hates the strong woman, Rolladin, who acts as wardens to the prisoners of war who live in Central Park. Nor why their family are the only ones who only spend winters in the Park. Phee herself is a great hunter and a girl of words not action and although she is the younger sister she is much more of a leader than her gentle older sister Skye. Skye would love to share the world of before with her mother, but her mother never talks of the past which the girls cannot remember being only babies at the time the war broke out. Sarah, the mom, was living a New Yorker lifestyle of culture, travel, etc. Skye loves to read, dreams of school which no longer exists, and wants to get out of Manhattan and experience the world.

The world that the sisters know is that New York City has been turned into a POW camp by some foreign entity who attacked the U.S. when they were babies.  The few survivors in NYC mainly live in The Park, which is really Central Park where a tough fellow New York, Rolladin acts as a warden and intermediary between the survivors and the enemy.  The survivors hole up in a former hotel and work as fieldhands raising crops in Central Park.  They have also bred some of the former zoo animals to have a steady supply of meat.  Phee and Skye’s family is a little different as every spring and summer they along with their mom head off into the city to live on their own in a former luxury skyscraper apartment building, well it’s not so luxury now without air, heat, running water, electricity etc. but they get by with raising crops on the roof and hunting, most of the stores and apartments were raided for canned goods years ago.

When a small group of men who speak with strange accents show up in the Park at the start of fall, the consequences will change the course of everyone’s lives, lies will be exposed, and the sisters may be torn apart.

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After the Snow

After the Snow by S.D. Crockett is a timely story in the sense that Senator Inhofe, the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently threw a snowball on the Senate floor as ‘proof’ that there isn’t any such thing as global warming because look how much snow we have!   This type of ignorance is why there has been a mini movement to rebrand global warming as ‘climate change.’    In fact, there is a line in After The Snow that speaks directly to the matter, that global warming doesn’t just mean that the world gets hotter, it refers to climatic change of any extreme.

This book was interesting as it’s an apocalyptic story told from the viewpoint of a boy who doesn’t know what the world was like before, as he was born after the big change had occurred. All he knows is a world of snow and cold because how global ‘warming’ played out in this story is that the planet did heat up which caused the ice caps to melt and all that cold water flooded the ocean lowering temperatures across the board and the world became a snowy and cold planet.

So how would a person feel who has only been alive in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event? Does it make life easier or better for those people that they don’t have anything better to compare their current lives to? Or perhaps because they are living in the dire repercussions of such an event that they couldn’t feel worse about their situation anyway?   In Willo’s case it isn’t that he doesn’t know anything of the world before, he has heard it about from his father and other ‘graybeards’, he just hasn’t experienced it for himself. So I guess the question is does it have the same impact hearing from others how things were better before than experiencing it first-hand? Would this be a case of ‘you can’t miss what you don’t know’?

I think people, myself included, naturally spend much time in regret, so maybe as bad as things are in the present of After the Snow, it’s better not to have any experience, and as little knowledge as possible, of the beforetimes. On the other hand, would one fight as hard to make the present situation better if they didn’t know what was possible? Without that kind of knowledge, maybe people settle for just surviving each day, not thriving…

The other thing I found interesting about the book is how children who were born after a disaster create their own dogma, myths and beliefs. Did formalized religion just fill a vacuum the way that mythology did for the earlier Greeks and Romans?   Willo has in a sense created his own religion in this story. He hasn’t really experienced dogs as a companion animal; he observes them in a pack and attributes some mystical qualities to them by making them part of a ritual, a ritual that gives him courage and strength when he is in a situation that calls for it. He has a sacred place he visits where he communes with the skulls of dead animals, including the dog whom he also hears as a voice in his head giving advice when he is in a situation where he feels pressure to make the right decision. After all, he has adapted to his role in this changed world, the role of a woodsman and hunter. As the narrator, Willo even has his own cadence when telling the story which makes sense as his ‘voice’ is so different? And why wouldn’t it be? Everything about the world has changed and the new generation, his generation, has grown up in it. Their speech patterns would not be influenced by TV or movies, since there are none, and books are a luxury to those who must physically labor each day to survive.

I wonder what it would be like to be the parent of such a creature? His father who lived in the beforetimes is obviously a man of education, of thoughts, ideas, and politics more than a man of the physical world. How does he view a son so wholly different than him, and not just in minor differences such as music tastes and hobbies, but a completely different outlook on the world and expectations for it?

It’s the cadence of the narrator and the questions the book raised for me that kept me reading even though the other characters in the story were not well developed and there were a bunch of plot points that were not answered – if a book can make me think, then I am drawn into it.