What, you think that just because the world ended there’s no longer racism, slut shaming, or even fashion? Well, welcome to the Sassy Apocalypse! This irreverent view of a post-apocalyptic world was what has been missing from this genre. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the earnest self-sacrificing young heroes and heroines in books such as Divergent and The Ashes trilogy, but as a superfan of Veronica Mars and Buffy, this book showed me you can survive the apocalypse with a wicked sense of humor intact. Turns out that may be more of an advantage than any weapons or survivalist training when it comes to how one manages the life you are handed when the world falls apart.
Of course it helps that the author, Mr. Weitz, has a home court advantage over other authors with his background as a writer and director of films such as Antz, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and About a Boy. I mean the guy kind of already knows his way around building a narrative and sequencing action to maximum effect or his movies wouldn’t sell so many tickets. It strikes me as wonderfully subversive that the guy is reverse-engineering the current trend of writing a YA apocalyptic or dystopian novel and then selling it to Hollywood to be made into a film. The guy makes films, but chose to tell this story in book form — well at least for now. What I would not have expected from a ‘Hollywood guy’ is the skewering social commentary provided by the two main characters, Jefferson and Donna. In addition to racism and slut shaming, there is also class warfare and religion as expressed mostly through Jefferson’s observations who is a co-narrator of the book along with Donna. Donna is more responsible for the wealth of pop culture references liberally sprinkled in every chapter. By telling the same story through two very different character’s points of view it creates many layers of perspective.
The story takes place in New York City, one of the best locations for an end-of-the-world story with skyscrapers layered over the teen Lord of the Flies dynamic instead of a remote island. All the adults in the world have died of some kind of sickness leaving teens on their own in a kind of messed up Charlie Brown reality. While the pair of narrators have very different views they team up with some other members of their local tribe to save the world and in the process give us a bit of heroic Lord of the Rings type quest mixed with touches of The Breakfast Club in which each member of the mission represents a different teen archetype.
I believe that Jefferson is the alter ego of Chris Weitz who has a degree from Cambridge. There are several scenes where Jefferson visits his old favorite haunts such as the New Library, Museum and Zoo and appreciating how they have endured amid the backdrop of violence. He is the thinking man’s hero rather than a man of action leaving that in Donna’s feminist hands. He actually sees what has happened as an opportunity to rebuild a better world than the one which was destroyed, “Typical Jefferson. While he’s working on restoring civilization, everybody else is figuring out new ways to cook rat.”
Donna mourns the world of Before even though she knows it contained a lot of silly fluff, but hey we all have our own guilty pleasures when you think about it. She still reads People magazine and takes note of post-apocalyptic fashion, “I walk past the kids in the firing line. And I notice that even when the world has gone to hell, people still have a sense of fashion. The looting opportunities in our particular neck of the woods have made for some pretty electic looks. Prada overcoats with military insignias, peasant dresses cinched with ammo belts.” I am sure some will complain about the attention to pop culture she brings to the story with references to Kindles, Resident Evil, YouTube, Walmart, texting, Harajuku and Game of Thrones just to name a few, but I loved it. It IS the world we live in, and as silly as some of it is, it’s what results when you don’t have to spend every minute you have just staying alive.
I don’t know about you, but if the apocalypse were to happen I want to hang with those who either inspire me, like Jefferson, or someone like Donna who can still make me snort with laughter even in the worst of times.