The Last Book in the Universe

For someone who writes a book review blog, what could be a more horrifying scenario than a novel about a post-apocalyptic world without books?  The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick came out of the author writing that down as a title and then developing first a short story, then later publishing as full novel.

In a future America after an event referred to as The Shake, a giant earthquake has changed the culture of generations.  The descendants of most of the original survivors live a hardscrabble existence divided into districts known as latches.  Each latch is controlled by a ruthless leader who employs fear and violence over the inhabitants.  A teen named Spaz lived in one of the slightly better latches and was raised by foster parents despite the fact that he is an epileptic.  However, when they had a child of their own, the father was worried that Spaz might somehow hurt Bean, his sister.  The reality is that Spaz loves Bean more than anyone in the world and would never cause her any harm, but his foster father was unconvinced and kicked him out of their home and he was banished from that entire latch.  Without any other options, Spaz goes to live in a latch ruled over by gang leader Billy Bizmo who lets him be part of the group as long as he steals valuable items for them.

What doesn’t make sense to me in this book is that Billy is able to steal or scavenge a lot of old tech devices and gadgets, but he never comes across a single book when there were once millions.  Yes, paper is a bit more delicate than metal, but given the amount of books that existing pre-Shake you would think some would survive, but I guess if that were this case this book wouldn’t exist.  Perhaps one reason there aren’t any books is maybe people burned them for fuel or used them for other things as they wouldn’t have seen value in books, people have other forms of entertainment in this world.  They still have something like dvds, though most people prefer probes.  Probes are needles you stick into your brain to have something like a virtual reality experience, but more direct and intense as it is interfacing directly with your brain.  Maybe it’s that intensity that makes the probes seem similar to a drug as the people of Spaz’s world seem to get addicted to them, or maybe it’s just people want to escape their hard and dreary lives.  Spaz doesn’t use probes because he can’t due to his epilepsy and it’s what makes him different than most people.  You see when the probes are overused they affect memory; people only store information in their short term memory, not their long term memory if they use the probes too much.

One day Spaz sets off for the Stacks, an old storage unit where the poorest of the poor live.  His mission is to steal from an old man named Ryter, which readers will discover is an apt name.  Ryter is so compliant about letting Spaz steal all his possessions that Spaz becomes suspicious and spots what the man in hiding, a sheath of papers.  It turns out the man is writing a book, which Spaz doesn’t see the point of as no one reads and there aren’t any libraries anymore so he wonders why anyone would be so dedicated to write a book, yet somehow it intrigues him and he ends up returning to talk to the man.  Around the time of this burgeoning friendship, Spaz is told by a Messenger who has crossed the latches (which is illegal and dangerous) that his foster sister is deathly ill and he is determined to risk everything to see her.

Spaz ends up being accompanied on this journey by Ryter who sees this as an opportunity to write one final big adventure to add to his book despite the danger.  Inevitably, they run into some very bad situations while on the trip, but one good event happens, they run into Lanaya, a proov.  Proovs are like the current 1% as they live a completely different life than anyone in the latches.  They live a life of luxury, get physical enhancement which are well beyond current plastic surgery and live in their own territory isolated from the 99%, though Lanaya is an exception among her community as she comes to the latches and hands out food packages similar to people who currently hand out food to the homeless.  The occurrence of the two worlds colliding will have significant repercussions for all the characters.

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California

In the case of California by Edan Lepucki the world goes out with a whimper not a bang.  Maybe in a way that’s the more likely scenario rather than a single catastrophe.  After all, isn’t that what we are seeing right now in our news?  We have a variety of problems, several are climate related, but those are tied with social unrest too, it’s all one giant Venn diagram of interconnected issues,which is what I think has paralyzed both individuals and politicians in making any progress to fix our problems.

The novel California only lightly touches on some of the events that lead to the situation that Cal and Frida find themselves in… a severe blizzard in the Midwest, the inequality of the 1%, lack of fuel and energy.  Frida’s world was normal until about the time she entered high school when the cracks in our society began to show.  Yet her younger brother Micah was able to attend college, well it was one of those experimental colleges, a bit like Evergreen College in Washington, a cross between intellectualism and back to the land hippie education, but for men only.  However, it was free and the concept of skills like agriculture and animal husbandry made it an attractive place for Cal, Micah’s roommate too.  The most complex relationship in the books to me is the one between the two roommates, not the relationship between Cal and Micah’s sister Frida which eventually becomes a marriage.   Micah is this Svengali-like figure at Plank, the school, though Cal has a silent strength of his own that will be needed w in the future.  Micah goes from pulling pranks to being radicalized by the mysterious Toni.  After the boys graduate they all return to LA where Micah and Frida are from, but Micah goes to live in the Encampment as he has joined The Group.  His roommate Cal has chosen another path, he is in love with Frida and they move into an apartment together, Cal tries to eke out a living growing vegetables while Frida works in a bakery until the supplies dwindle and the place closes.  Eventually Micah is involved in a shocking event.

All of the above is told in flashbacks as the story actually begins with Cal and Frida arriving on The Land.  After all, in LA normal life is starting to crumble and it’s not exactly safe in many places.  Cal thinks it would be best if they leave the city, though it’s never actually made clear where “The Land” actually is.  The pair find a shed to live in and are living a Walden Pond existence.  While it’s a primitive way of living, it’s peaceful and makes me question their later choice to leave what seems to me like a safe haven, one that even has good neighbors.  There is a family nearby who teach them additional life of the land skills.  Neighbors who warn them not to leave The Land for an area called The Forms.  Maybe they would have complied if Cal hadn’t found the bodies of Bo and Sandy and their children who appear to have poisoned themselves in a mass suicide a la Jonestown in Guyana.

I guess this is why I couldn’t stand the character of Frida in the book.  Cal has done everything to take care of her and keep her safe and she just comes off as clueless, willful and capricious.  It’s Frida who insists they hike out to the Forms to meet the people living there, a decision that unravels the past, present and future.     If you have ever wondered about people who choose to live off the grid, or choose to join a cult, or choose to live in a gated walled off community, well you will probably find this book interesting as it has elements similar to all three.  However, after a fair amount of building tension the ending left me empty, unless it wasn’t meant to be an ending, but just the first book in a sequel or series.  Normally, I would get online and look but I am still chewing on a bitter aftertaste of feeling a bit let down by the last few chapters.

Breathe

For some reason I use a lot of movie examples when writing about how I feel about books….Well here is one more, Breathe by Sarah Crossan is like the B Movie version of Wool by Hugh C. Howey. The two have a similar plot idea that there is a society of people living in a contained space because the air outside that space will kill you. In addition to the apocalyptic event that created each of these situations, each book is also a dystopian novel because of course there has to be a quasi-government that is both controlling the citizens and hiding some truths from there. Wool was the superior version because it is simply a more mature book, and I don’t mean that the main character was out of her teens unlike the protagonists in Breathe, I mean there is a depth and maturity in Wool missing from Breathe.

Here’s where I always second guess writing a sentence like the above, after all Breathe is a YA book and maybe if I was still a sixteen-year old girl the level of writing would be just fine for me. However, I am not a sixteen girl and I also suspect that with the state of worldliness of teens today, they may also feel that the writing is a bit immature for them too.   The author Sarah Crossan was a high school teacher, I was too, but my teaching career ended years ago so maybe I am off- base, but I was bored and I think th teenage attention span is even shorter than mine.

The book just had far too many stereotypes for me too. There are the rebels who know that the government has been lying to them and have their own lair in the Outlands outside the domed city with its pumped in oxygen. Of course one of the rebels is a beautiful teenage girl, Aline, a hard case who lost her parents and has nothing but contempt for the ‘Premiums.’ The Premiums are the 1% of their society who live in the nicest neighborhood sector and can afford to buy all the oxygen they need while the rest of society struggles with fatigue and overwork brought on by the lack of oxygen and the depression caused by the lack of opportunities available to them. Bea, another ‘auxiliary’ is one of those who don’t understand that no matter how hard she works, she will never get the opportunity that she deserves. When she debates Quinn, her best friend and the boy she secretly loves, she wipes the floor with him. However, it’s Quinn, the Breathe Director’s son who is accepted into the leadership program not her. To make matters worse the hiking trip to the Outlands that Quinn has treated her to doesn’t go the way she hoped. Instead of getting some time alone with Quinn hoping he will notice her as something more than a friend; he helps their classmate Alina who is on the run because he has a crush on her. Once they are deep in the Outlands Alina parts from them but they decide to follow her, which brings them into contact with a drifter who makes them see these people in a different light, and the rebels themselves where they get a mixed reception.   Yes, the love triangle thing has been done too many times in other books, and done much better. Quinn is really immature and selfish and I can’t understand why any of the girls would find him interesting, at least in most of these triangles the guy is a tough guy with a heart of gold underneath, but Quinn is just a wimp.

Really, the most interesting part of the book for me was in the flyleaf where the author states she got the idea for the book when traveling in Washington State (where I live) and seeing tree logging she thought, “Don’t people understand that we need trees to breathe?”   She is right, we do though few seem to realize that, especially where I live where old growth trees are being torn down to build yet more luxury townhomes and condos. So therefore, I give Ms. Crossan a thumbs up for weaving real world conditions into this cautionary tale.

Carry the Flame

The action in the James Jaros novel Carry the Flame may be both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On the one hand we are a civilization that seems to need a lot of stimulation, hence movies with one action sequence after another and the plethora of online distractions, gaming, etc. For people of that ilk, Carry the Flame delivers. I myself don’t mind a degree of heart-stopping action, it’s one of the reasons I have turned increasingly to apocalyptic and dystopian fiction over just regular fiction, but I think when you have non-stop action and violence without pause that’s as bad as the other extreme of not much happening. Think about it, our bodies pump cortisol when we are experiencing a classic “fight or flight” moment, but it’s not good to sustain that increase in blood flow and cortisol. Too much and it can make you sick. In a novel one of the consequences of the pacing being at full throttle throughout includes missing out on the buildup to the action or violence which creates that extreme tension and suspense. You really feel the difference once your heart has slowed to a normal rate and then suddenly something unexpected or terrible happens. If your heart is constantly racing you miss out on that sensation, think about a rollercoaster, when you are climbing your heart can relax, then you plunge down while your adrenaline cranks up, then you recover just enough when climbing again to feel the difference with the next plunge.

The other problem with the non-stop pace is there is less time for character development. I do think James Jaros has drawn some vivid characters starting with Burn Down the Sky, the first book in which the pacing wasn’t as fast. In this sequel the strong female characters of Jessie, Bliss and Ananda are again fighting to survive with the help of Burned Fingers, the former marauder. However, we are missing the backstory of new characters like Sam, Steph, Xray, Linden and especially the Mayor. How did Sam’s daughter get taken? Were Steph’s people trying to reach the Artic too? Linden is the Mayor’s aide but is actually a good guy in disguise. How long has he been on the side of good and how has he managed to keep his secrets in the deadly City of Shade? If he is good, how did he get mixed up with the Mayor in the first place? The Mayor appears to be an educated foreign psycho with an honor code. I wanted to know more about what made him into the person who rules the City of Shade. It’s interesting that he looks upon the Alliance of God with disdain as child molesters and religious freaks, but he is willing to trade with them and his own hands are far from clean. Unfortunately, despite the over 400 pages that make up the book, there isn’t enough time to fill in this gaps when most of the words are made up of the violent action. There also wasn’t enough time spent on the evolution of the relationship between Jess, her girls and Burned Fingers. Bliss literally has to fight back to back with Burned Fingers and trust him with her life and her mother’s, but a psychiatrist would have a field day the effect that must have on her young psyche. Plus, what about Jessie the mom? Burned Fingers is responsible for killing the love of her life Eden, yet he is constantly saving her other great loves, her children and she is caught off guard by other glimpses of his humanity and a part of her appears to admire his ability to make war. That is an interesting plotline that is hinted at too briefly.

However, if I had to err on one side I guess a heart pumping read wins out over long chapters where nothing is happening. My only other quibble is it’s unclear whether there is another sequel to follow this one. Yes, there isn’t exactly a cliffhanger ending such as one of the girls being taken and us readers wondering what will happen to her, so technically this could end the story. However, we haven’t learned who or what the mysterious Dominion is who doesn’t want people to cross border into Canada. Also, is the Artic the new Promised land? Are the trees and plants growing back in the north allowing life to be sustained?   What will be the consequences of the caravan splitting into two groups heading north and Ananda is in the separate group from her mother and sister? This book was published in 2012, so it seems that timing-wise if a sequel isn’t coming soon, it may not be happening, and that would be a shame.

Anomaly

This book review is not about religion, though it is about an apocalyptic/dystopian novel in which religion is a central theme in telling its story. The book, Anomaly, by Krista McGee is about a dystopian society that forms after an apocalyptic event. A group of scientists predicted a future in which chemical and nucclear warfare would be used and logically created the infrastructure and means to survive it. As they were the only survivors in a Norad type of locale, the society’s structure was informed by the fact that the new order was formed by people with scientific and analytic minds. The scientists felt that the cause of the warfare were the people who live via emotions over logic and used the destruction was an opportunity to start over. It’s this plotline that makes it strange that the central character of the story would be a teen named Thalli.

You see Thalli is a musician. Everyone in her pod was genetically modified and born as a test tube baby for a certain skill they could contribute to the new society. You would think music, and the arts, would not be seen as necessary by the scientists, but the author does try to tie it in a little with some information about how math relates to music. Still, the choice of this character, is in itself an anomaly was her only role in the pod is to play music to entertain at certain events.

Thalli is at heart an emotional person with the soul of an artist, so how could these genius scientists not predict the impact that having such a person would have on their society’s rules? It’s not that Thalli is overt, she tries hard to follow the norms of not showing emotion outwardly, not even when her friend and podmate is taken away for displaying systems of a cold. After all, in this perfect society there isn’t room for genetic weakness such as health issues. As much of a blow as that was, Thalli takes it even harder when her childhood friend Berk, destined to join the Scientists himself after his training, moved from the pod.

When Thalli is told to learn the music of a Bach piece to play at the next event, the music causes her to react so strongly that she is scheduled for annihilation. While waiting for her doom she is reunited with Berk, but also meets the father of one of the Scientists. This man tells Thalli about the world before the war, before the pod system and he tells her about Jesus, someone she has never heard of before.   This was a new twist for me in this genre as usually religion in post-apocalyptic books is given a bad rap. In other apocalyptic books religion is twisted into something evil, violent and cult like and preys on traumatized survivors and involves either a scarily charismatic leader using women as sister wives or killing other non-believers blaming them for the destructive event, etc. This is the first time in the many books I have read in this genre that the idea of religion benign. Therefore, although the writing was a little obvious in the message it was trying to impart, it wasn’t so heavy handed that I didn’t finish reading. I was interested for two reasons, how someone like John keeps his faith in a world where man has inflicted such evil and continues to, and by what is must be like for someone to encounter the concept of religion as a fully formed young adult who has never been exposed to the idea in any form. Also, this book is an intersection between ‘art and science’ with the characters of the Scientists standing in direct opposition to John and Thalli’s own growing belief. Even Berk, who as a scientist has been trained all this life to believe in what can be scientifically proven and quantified, is exposed to having to think about his world differently. So although the writing is far from sophisticated and the characters a little one-dimensional, I do give this props for a creative angle I have not witnessed before in this kind of book, enough that I might read the sequel.

While We Run

While We Run by Karen Healey continues the story of Tegan and Abdi. However, unlike the first book which at least tried to get readers to think about issues such as environment, immigration, race, gender, etc. this second book is really just an adventure story following the lines of some action movie. In While We Run, Tegan has turned herself in to save Marie, her guardian, and she and Abdi were taken by the government who are using them for their own agenda. The government’s agenda is to use Tegan and Abdi as PR for finishing the Ark project, by getting them to present the government’s propaganda and encourage wealthy donors to sign up to undergo the cryogenic process to fund the Ark. Tegan and Abdi each have handlers who use psychological and physical torture to make the pair do what the government wants, the torture includes having to watch the other person get punished if they rebel. This manipulation causes the former lovebirds to sometimes hate the other person who is holding out.

This second story is told from Abdi’s viewpoint, unlike the first book which was Tegan’s story. Also, gone are the chapter headings which were the titles of Beatle songs. In fact, since the pair is forced to perform Beatles songs at donor events, it has twisted their love for the music into something dark. While the rich donors seem to fall for the pair’s acting, some Australians suspect that they two are being forced by the government and there is a Save Tegan movement. However, it is not a united effort but fractured groups each with their own agenda who find it convenient to make Tegan their figurehead without her consent or endorsement. Not that either Tegan or Abdi know much about these groups or indeed what has been happening in the outside world as they are not allowed any news or contact with the outside world. Abdi is in such despair that he contemplates a rebellion that would basically be the same as killing himself as the odds are hopeless.

Abdi has forgotten their friends, friends with contacts and unique skills, who launch a plan to break them out.   As the saying goes, “it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire” as the pair discovers that in some ways they have traded one master for another as two of the factions want to keep the pair close for their own purposes and Tegan and Abdi don’t know how much they can trust their rescuers. They can trust their old friends Joph and Bethari though, who agree to run from their so-called liberators, but not without the drama of a dangerous bush fire, the enemy closing in, etc. This is what I didn’t like about this story, that is was much are chases and getaways, then about the Australia of the future and its problems. It really didn’t feel much like a dystopian or apocalyptic book and was more about the personal story of the friends than facing down the bigger issues of their society. Unusually, this was a two book series and not a trilogy which most are these days; however I am glad that the author chose to stop with just the two as the story had already significantly declined after the first book.

Into the Forest

You get used to the razzle dazzle when you are so inundated with it. Every romance has to be epic, every chase scene has to stretch the bounds of physics, and every story has to be jam packed full of meaning, dialogue, or plot.

This book, Into the Forest, by Jean Hegland, was startling in its quiet. You come across very few books that are like that in these modern times and particularly not in the genre I write about, dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. This is not one of those books they will turn into a film full of fresh young actors about to embark on a cinematic dynasty. This is a book that may make many readers twitch, unable to settle down into the slow groove of its pacing. Compared to apocalyptic books where there is movement and violence, this has none of the former and only a dusting of the latter. This is a book where the world we know changes with a sigh, not a bang.

Two sisters, Nell and Eva, close enough in age to be more like twins than sisters, live in the countryside with their parents. Once so close, a small fissure in their closeness happens when Eva trains to be a dancer against the wishes of her mother, a former dancer herself. Nell feels a little lonely, so she sets her own high goal to get into Harvard. As Nell is home schooled at home, Eva journeys into the nearest town and sometimes as far as San Francisco loosen their bond. However, after their mother dies of cancer and their father becomes a grief stricken shell, they turn to each other again.

Is it their respective intense training regimes, their isolation in the countryside, or the shock of their mother’s death that makes them seem a little oblivious to the obvious signs that things in the outside world are not going so well, or does that just make them human? After all, don’t we all feel deep in our belly a sense of unease? Isn’t that what has drawn some of us to this genre. They are also immunized to the changes around them by the fact that their father is handy, they have a garden, and are far from populated areas when violence erupts after work stops, electricity is lost and people fall sick or hungry.

As teenage girls they are still fixated on the idea of college, career, and of course boys, well Nell is during the trips into town they make in her father’s car. A routine that started when they came into town to visit their mother in the hospital and that no one could break after she passed. Missing her mother and even her sister who spends hours in their in home dance studio, Nell tries to shake off this feelings as well as her unease, by partying in the town square and having a crush on Eli, that is until there is no more gas, meaning no more trips to town.

Out in the country without electricity Eva dances to a metronome rather than music, and Nell starts reading an encyclopedia page by page, so as not to let her learning slip when the electricity comes back and she goes off to Harvard. There is nothing in the dictionary that tells her how to handle things when her father is injured while doing chores, and nothing that will help when something unexpected happens to her sister, though it does offer her some practical information that helps them survive in the interim between what their life was and what they expect it will be again.

The only books I have ever come across in this genre that had this slow flow about a world turned upside down have been Life as We Knew It and Not a Drop to Drink. If you can appreciate sinking into a deep rhythm and reading a book without a lot of bells and whistles, a book that reminds us that our present has only been a blink of an eye compared to the thousands of years of our past, Into the Forest is one to read with a glass of tea.

Dust

Back when I was a renter I avoided even looking at basement apartments even though they are usually much cheaper to rent. Oh, I tried once when I lived in Costa Rica. My place was not a basement apartment per say, but it was a 2 level apartment with the kitchen and living room on the ground floor and the bedroom and bathroom below ground level. I thought in a warm tropical climate like Central America it would not be an issue — it was. Despite how warm it was, the minute I descended into the depths at bedtime I could feel a chill with each step I took down to my basement bedroom. Not only did I feel the chill, but it was dark even when it was still light outside. I hated the feeling of being underground, there is probably something primal about that.
Therefore, I can understand the people in Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy who volunteer to clean, the desire to get above ground and go outside in the natural light.

Dust is the final story in the trilogy and it reveals the wider world beyond Silo 18. Juliette’s determination to dig through to her friends in Silo 17 creates unrest in her silo, but she doesn’t care as she doesn’t have any plans to be a career politician, she never wanted to be Mayor anyway. However, after so many of her friends and colleagues died in the recent uprising, Juliette isn’t really showing enough empathy to others, and in fact her actions will have deadly consequences.

After all, Juliette and Lukas haven’t shared with their silo what they know about the other silos and that they have enemies. Is Donald from Silo 1 one of those enemies or an ally? It was really jarring to read about Silo 1 and read references to the Iraq war. Most apocalyptic books occur in the immediate aftermath of some disaster or far into the future, by introducing Silo 1 it blends the origins of the silos and our current reality with that of the rest of the silos, the future societies created by choices made today, and I thought that was a good hybrid and a technique not deployed much.

After all, when we envision the future we tend to envision the society of the future getting progressively advanced beyond the previous generations, but it’s the opposite in Dust. The people in Silo 18 live like an earlier era, the few computers in the Tech department notwithstanding. Yet there are elements such as the War Games feel of the servers assigning each silo a number, only one silo will ‘win the game.’ Then there is Silo 1 where the inhabitants take ‘naps’ that are basically putting people in a cryogenic freeze, very futuristic sci fi contrasted with the Blue Lagoon type story line of Hannah and Rickson and the cult like elements of Father Remmy and his flock. There was a lot going on in this last story, maybe a bit too much as these other elements were not completely explored, rather only briefly glimpsed.

I did think that rather than ending the series that there could be additional stories about the other silos and how each society may have evolved to be very different. That would be very interesting in my opinion, it’s like those studies about twins separated at birth and the old nature vs. nuture argument It would be very interesting that even with the same origin/birth, each silo may have evolved completely differently in terms of their form of governance and society.

I particularly would have liked to have heard the story of Silo 40. Silo 40 had a silent revolution and had hacked both the camera feeds and ‘sorted the gas lines’ as well as communicating with their neighboring silos. The collapse codes were hacked by the silo. Supposedly, Anna hacked the detonators to bring the silo down, but we learn that instead she was sabotaging her father’s plans, so what really happened to Silo 40? Usually I don’t like spinoffs on TV, but as book series I think there’s more to tell about this world. Particularly if the inhabitants from the other silos ever get a chance to meet face to face on the outside…are you listening Mr. Howey?

After the End

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.

The Ward

I have never experienced a book being better in the second half than the first! It was The Ward by Jordana Frankel that delivered this unusual experience. Rennie is an orphan as are many kids in a world where the has killed off a lot of parents and kids in a world that was already destroyed by the Great Wash Out which has put New York City underwater creating an interesting subterranean world. In this world fresh water is more valuable than diamonds, and food and opportunity is pretty scarce too for those who live in the Ward, formerly Manhattan.

When we meet Rennie, she is determined not to get close to any of the other children at the orphanage as she is sure they will be adopted and there isn’t any point in caring about them. That’s how she feels until she meets the irrepressible Aven who grabs her heart as she is sneaking out to join the racers.

It really wasn’t clear initially how this street racing works as the ‘streets’ would be underwater, but gradually details emerge that they race vehicles that are part mini car and part amphibious vehicles. Rennie ends up being quite a good racer, and her earnings help her buy meds for Aven who ends up catching the disease. Plus, she has to race as part of her cover. Caught earlier stealing for fresh, she is forced to work undercover for the current regime’s quasi military/spy network.

So the first half seemed a bit stereotypical about the tough orphan with the secret heart of gold. A girl who succeeds in the misogynistic sport of racing, who is controlled by an evil government, etc. The juvenile relationships and dialogue were reminiscent of The Uglies series, which while entertaining could sometimes verge on annoying. It just seemed that this was more of an entertaining action type of dystopian/apocalyptic story. Then midway through Jordana Frankel starts raising serious food for thought as Rennie has to ponder whether saving one life is worth more than the many, what if the lives she is saving aren’t people worthy of being saved, etc. My reaction was like those times when you are in a sleep lull and suddenly you jerk awake. I felt like I was suddenly brought into a more sophisticated story with depth.

I hope the next book will continue along the track of the second half of this first one and not model the first half.