The main reason why I did not read young adult fiction for such a long time was because, even as a teenager, I could not relate to the teenagers in YA. I was just never that kind of kid, nor were the kids I was friends with. The few YA books I read were off putting to me because all of the girls seemed to be boy crazy, all of the boys were dumb and reckless, and their conversations with adults were frankly unhinged. None of it made sense to me, because most adults cannot write what they actually remember being a teenager to be like, they only write teenagers as they are represented in other fiction, stereotypes reinforced through repetition since the 50s when teenagers were invented and the older generations didn’t know what to do with them.
This is the first YA book I have ever read where I agreed that teenaged me would have thought and felt the way the teenaged protagonists think and feel in the book. Yes, they’re moody and self conscious and have poor impulse control, but they’re also relatively switched on intellectually and can string a full sentence together. They are interested in each other romantically but not to the point that their crush actually somehow becomes a bigger deal than the crisis they’re facing (I’ll be talking more about this in my next review for Tomorrow When the War Began).
One of my favourite moments, which in any other YA book would probably have been too uncomfortable for me, was where the main character and his crush admit to each other that they like-like one another. It’s a sad and ftustrating moment for them because they are mourning the normal dating stuff that has now been lost to them- like going to the movies. Stuff that they took totally for granted pre-disaster and are considered such standard teen coming of age activities, but are now gone forever. The activities themselves might re-emerge in the literal sense, but the innocence and pre-nuclear disaster freedom are shattered.
In a lot of ways, this book feels like Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, but for kids. Finn and his younger brother Max have to stave off starvation and illness and victimisation at the hands of desperate people, but the overall message of the book is that things might actually be ok. You can do it. Considering the fact that these books are set in nuclear winter, they’re pretty optimistic, while also being sad. Although having said that, the characters in both books have the conspicuous good fortune of being situated beyond the worst of the fall out, and only the very young/old and weak among them get sick.
Also, if you take any survival tips away from either book it should be this: stockpile whiskey, instant coffee and razor blades. They will essentially become the highest value tradeable goods in a barter economy. The whiskey and razor blades have medicinal value aside from their obvious purposes and coffee quickly becones a luxury.
Doyle cops to the whiteness of the book straight up and I’m not particularly worried. The Blue Mountains are pretty frigging white. The characters cut a straight line through a faorly deserted Sydney to end up in a parking lot near GVB, and then take a pretty straight line out again, deliberately avoiding other people. If there was a second book chronicaling their movements south to the commune, I would expect some more diversity to emerge.
The ladies in this book really impressed me. Lucy, Finn’s lady friend, is really cool. She’s spunky, sarcastic and capable, even if she does pick a few fights that would have ended in her being horribly raped or beaten if she hadn’t got dragged away and I actually curled up in my seat defensively reading the words. Lucy’s mother, who made such a heartfelt plea to Finn to take lucy with him in the hopes of at least someone in their family surviving, is constrasted with Finn’s mother. She lives in Sydney and works in disaster management, so although her boys are still reeling from the divorce and her percieved abandonment, she is the likely saviour and mother-of-all of the piece. But she’s not. She’s so much more complicated than that.
My other favourite part of the book is when Finn and Noll are surprised, biking through the city, by their high school history teacher springing forth from a pile of old newspapers and then calmly taking them back to his apartment for instant coffee. I had to read the part about the newspapers twice to make sure I had it right.
The best part about the book is the parallels drawn between the people who have been left for dead outside of the city limits as resources dwindle, and the current plight and demonization of refugees. Lucy sums it up best in the ration line as people around her bleat about the evils of non-locals trying to take their food, that they have to believe the outsiders are greedy, because the thought that they are just like them but left to die is too horrible to contemplate. After the disaster, all of the circles of life shrink to pinpricks- city, neighbourhood, family. The lines drawn between us vs them shift back and back, until people that you had previously thought of as friends, neighbours and nod-as-you-pass acquaintances are now suspect, untrustworthy, foreign.
I actually didn’t want this book to end. Usually I hate getting to the end of a book and realising it is book 1 of a series, but in this case I was disappointed that there wasn’t more. I give it 4 bottles of whiskey.