Published in 2008, this book rode in on the wave of dystopian fiction. But I didn’t get to it for several years. On its face, it seems like a pretty generic entry into the genre. I was drowning in these books when this one became available, so I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it. A family that’s been living alone in a bunker for years after a nuclear disaster – if there are only a few people down there, and this is a YA story, how interesting can it really be… Was I pleasantly surprised by the book? Did it supersede my expectations? No and No. It was a very fast read that helped pass a couple days.
Eli is a truly self-righteous character. For the first couple chapters, I almost considered stopping simply because of him. He is one of the most knowingly self-centred characters I’ve encountered in my reading history. However, I decided to push on and eventually, the character acquired some depth. Not much, but enough. I suppose if you were raised basically alone, what else would you think about? The only people in Eli’s life are his parents and his sister(s- I can’t remember if there were one or two, my bad). He’s lost his twin and his grandmother when they didn’t reach the bunker before it locked, and it’s mostly Eli’s fault. The kid has nothing to distract him, but honestly, he’s super annoying.
My favourite part of the book is the father. He’s such a loon that it takes the story on a fun, albeit disturbing, little twist. The father is not a well-developed character. He’s flat and basically nutso, but in the time of Doomsday Preppers and such, he didn’t necessarily read as completely unbelievable. There are people prepping for this kind of disaster. This guy just takes it a little further than I hope most people would be willing to.
When I first read about the room with the yellow door, I was sure that it had to be something other than what was being hinting. No way would an author actually be ballsy enough to actually go there. But then it was exactly that! The father really expected his wife to bare children so they could eat them when they ran out of protein! Cannibalism in a non-zombie YA novel? A charming turn for the dark and twisty. It gave the story just enough to be different. It’s actually the only reason I remembered this story as long as I have.
The surprise ending reveal that there had never actually been a bombing was not a surprise. I suspected this from the very beginning. Really, what else could this be leading to? With only one main character possibly in their right mind, there’s only so much story available. There’s a lot of extraneous information about the bunker in the novel to cover up the fact that there’s not really much of a story. It needed a few more revisions and a content editor. It needed more weight. The author clearly had a strong idea of what this world looked like and couldn’t wait to tell the reader all about it. It’s a common problem in early drafts when an author has put so much time and effort into creating a world and feels like everything is important. Without enough editing, it ends up creating a book that suffers from expositionitis. Eli walks us around the bunker for no reason other than to take up pages in the already short story with little substance.
It’s a fast, easy read, and for fans of dystopian teen fiction, it might be a nice variation on the norm – as long as you can get past Eli’s look at how hot and amazing I am attitude. He talks about himself in the same way the insipid teen girls in generic YA novels talk about the super hot boys in their beloved love triangles. It may just be annoying enough to make a reader skip it. Personally, I know I won’t be reading the second book in the series.