I read this book on the way to and while in Copenhagen last weekend. It was a great travel read with the short chapters. I was super excited to read it because my favourite writer/director Joss Whedon had not one but TWO quotes on the cover!
The (Spoiler-Free) Summary
Melanie is special. She’s not the only special one, but she’s perhaps the most important special one. This makes her incredibly valuable to both those who try to care for her and those who wish to control her. When the security of the relationship is ripped away, they will all go on a journey together that will have planet-wide repercussions.
That’s the best I can do. I’m so sorry. It’s hard to give a spoiler-free summary of this book. Carey does a great job of revealing information slowly and only when needed, so to even go beyond the first sentence (‘Her name is Melanie’) would be somewhat of a spoiler. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend just picking it up fresh. But if you don’t like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or True Blood (hah! try figuring it out from that, I dare ya!) because of their content (mainly the fact that it’s grossly graphic at times), you MIGHT not like this. No promises though; it could be your fav.
Spoilers ahead. Skip to my rating to avoid them.
The Good Stuff
Okay, so, things I liked about this book. MAJOR SPOILER: how it ended. I actually really like that Carey wasn’t afraid to wipe out all of civilisation. That was pretty ballsy. More on my feelings about the ending in ‘The Bad.’
I also really liked the complexity inherent in each of these characters. Justineau, Parks, Caldwell, Gallagher, and even Melanie were all robustly developed characters (though Kieran Gallagher could have been a bit more developed). I especially loved Caldwell’s character. There’s a portion on the end matter that asks if the character would have been more sympathetic as a man, but I actually love that it was a woman who made all of these decisions. It was especially effective in taking away the reader’s ability to dismiss Justineau’s actions as ‘motherly instinct’ since Caldwell is a woman too but has swung to the other extreme.
I thought the idea of the fungus was really original, though I have now been informed by nerds that it was a ripoff of a video game. Oh well. The scientific aspects were pretty well explained, though I rarely found myself overwhelmed in its presentation, which is not easy to do. (Take it from someone who is currently trying to write science fiction for young adults; info dumps are the easiest thing in the world. Working explanation into the narrative is hard work.)
The Bad Stuff
The section on things I did not like has to start with where it ended. I liked HOW it ended, but WHERE is another story. Wipe out humanity, sure. But for the love of God give us an epilogue. The epilogue could be from the perspective of the last hungry kid to die so that we feel vindicated in thinking that wiping us out was a mistake. It could be from Justineau’s perspective as she gets eaten by the hungry kids, in which case we know at least that the highly implausible ending (even for speculative fiction) worked out in a more plausible way. Or you could take it the other way and say that it may have seemed implausible but it worked, as we see ten years later the first hungry baby from the group of kids being born.
(An aside on this concept of ‘plausibility’: speculative fiction is rarely plausible given our real world. My suspension of disbelief is strong enough that I will believe that (spoiler alert) Buffy destroyed all of Sunnydale, and Spike had to die to do it. It breaks my damn heart, but I believe it. What I have a problem with though is ending a story in a way that is implausible even within the world it that has been created. The reason Buffy works is because the mythology has been set up, and it seems like something these characters would do.)
And back on the ending of the book: Where was the setup for this revelation that hungries do the nasty? Did I miss that somewhere? Because nowhere were we given any indication that that could have been happening. I’m not saying tell us ‘Gallagher sees hungries humping each other but writes it off as a domestic dispute.’ That would be ridiculous, and it would give things away. But plant the seeds earlier on so that when you tell us hungries have sex we have reason to believe you. ‘Oh yeah, that would explain those 2 things! Cool!’ would be our reaction instead of ‘Wait, what? Oh, okay I guess. Cool. I was on board with Melanie having been bitten, but it’s fine. I guess I’ll just accept this.’
Lastly, also about the ending (apparently the book just needed 100 more pages), who tf is Marie? Parks drops her name as he’s dying, and it makes absolutely no sense. Is the point that people are a mystery even once we get to know them? Because that’s dumb. Make that point another way.
Random Rant About the Upcoming Film
The fact that Justineau is a black woman is important in this book. Why on God’s green earth would they cast a white woman here?? They seem to have racially swapped her, Melanie (supposed to be blonde), and Gallagher (who is absolutely a redhead and should 100% have been played by Domhnall Gleeson), and it really bothers me.
If the ending had been better (see above complaints), this book probably would have gotten at least 4.5 if not 5 stars. But as it is I have to go with 3. Sorry, Carey. Should have pushed yourself at the end there.
The chapters in this book are really short, so it’s a good commute book.
3 out of 5 stars
Discussion Questions: (Spoilers!)
- Was Justineau acting more out of compassion or guilt? How much of her loyalty to Melanie was driven by the events of her past?
- How did you feel about Gallagher’s decision to run and what subsequently happened to him?
- Do you think Justineau will be able to teach the kids the way she taught Melanie? How much of an impact on the original kids’ humanity did their ‘education’ actually have?
- What do you think civilization will look like in 6 months? 3 years? 10 years?
- Parks eventually warmed to Melanie. Realistically, how do you think you would have reacted to/interacted with her at different points in the story?
- How do you feel about Dr Caldwell and her ruthless dedication to her work? What do you think would have happened if they had made it to Beacon?