3 out of 5 stars
I almost decided to pass on writing up this review because I had such mixed feelings about the novel. I actually started and stopped reading about three times before I finally finished. It wasn’t any one thing that bothered me, but a combination of several. It should have, and could have, been a great story. I’ve always enjoyed reading survival types and surviving a nuclear war would certainly be a tough one. Many possibilities for potential problems to crop up.
So we have a group of teenagers who decided to go camping on the perfect weekend to miss out on the big bang. But they return home to total chaos. This part was okay, even the three-legged skunk that makes an occasional appearance. At this point details start to get a bit sticky for me. I think it might have been different if the connection to the main character Joel could have been stronger, which is surprising when it comes to a first person narrative. Instead of living inside Joel’s head I felt like I was being told what he was thinking, leaving me emotionally detached. His fear and confusion didn’t jump across the pages to me. With no real connection to the main character there wasn’t a lot of hope for more with the others. Jake was probably the only one I somewhat cared about and this was because I could relate to the flaws in his personality. He became real. The others did not. Each character should have had a specific place in the story, but all of them could easily have traded places and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
Some of what these kids did came across as realistic, but unfortunately, a lot of it didn’t. I felt fixes to problems were thrown in for convenience to make things easier for the author. A couple of examples: they just happen to walk into a barn and find everything they need there to grow their own food. After a nuclear war, growing food is going to be a problem, hunger a huge issue. It could have been used to add depth to the story, but instead they are handed an easy way out. Then, when they start to run out of fuel needed to keep the household and vehicles going, they just happen to run into a semi truck filled with the stuff. My reaction was, “Really, seriously.” It sorely tested my ability to suspend disbelief.
But, even after all of these problem areas, and the months it took me to actually finish, I ended the first novel curious about where the second one would lead. I’d like to learn whether the remaining friends grow closer together or continue to fall apart. For that reason I’ll give it a three star rating rather than the two I was leaning toward and hope for better in the second one. Bottom line—a so-so story, not great, but certainly not bad. The writing itself is fairly good and this probably helped me overlook some of the problems. I might not make a sprint toward the second one, but I will read it.