Friday, May 2, 2014
Review: After the End by Amy Plum
Review: After the End by Amy Plum
Release date: May 6th, 2014
Series: Yes, #1 in After the End series
Source: e-ARC via Edelweiss
Length: 352 pages
Rating: I didn't like it. Then I kinda did. And then who ends a book like that I ask you????
She’s searching for answers to her past. They’re hunting her to save their future.
World War III has left the world ravaged by nuclear radiation. A lucky few escaped to the Alaskan wilderness. They've survived for the last thirty years by living off the land, being one with nature, and hiding from whoever else might still be out there.
At least, this is what Juneau has been told her entire life.
When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover that everyone in her clan has vanished, she sets off to find them. Leaving the boundaries of their land for the very first time, she learns something horrifying: There never was a war. Cities were never destroyed. The world is intact. Everything was a lie.
Now Juneau is adrift in a modern-day world she never knew existed. But while she's trying to find a way to rescue her friends and family, someone else is looking for her. Someone who knows the extraordinary truth about the secrets of her past.
What a bizarre reading experience that was for me. Going into this book, you should all know that this is NOT a dystopian. It's not post-apocalyptic, and it's nothing like that cover or that synopsis. Really it's kind of like a vaguely magical version of Margaret Peterson Haddix's Running Out of Time, wherein a young girl growing up in a sheltered community learns that everything she's ever been taught is a lie. And then there's a lot of camping and running from people, kind of like that one section in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows most people dislike, but way less angsty.
Why was this such a bizarre reading experience? Because I went from writing down many, many snarky notes in the beginning to being totally gripped somewhere halfway through. Most reviews I've read felt the total opposite. They liked the parts in the beginning, which are exactly the synopsis and happened to be the parts I borderline hated. Juneau lives in an isolated community in Alaska comprised of survivors of the nuclear war that devastated the world. People in her commune can practice a nature-based magic called the Yara, and Juneau is the best at it, fated to take over for Whit, her mentor, as village Sage. Until she returns from a routine hunting expedition to find everyone gone.
That sounds really great and intense, right? SOUNDS. It sounds. The book started of very lifelessly for me. We barely get ten seconds in Juneau's village before it's yanked away, which means I did not care about anybody in it, which means I did not care that Juneau was now going to go on an epic quest through unknown territory to find them. I knew, from the synopsis, that she'd soon discover there had been no war and the world was chugging along the same as always outside of her frozen tundra home. So you're kind of just floating through the beginning like yeah, hurry up now.
Intercut with Juneau's chapters, we get tiny slivers from a boy named Miles' perspective, which is actually welcome for me, because a) his voice is very different from Juneau's, and b) before he and Juneau meet, he gives a nice framework to her bizarre story. (Even though he is kind of an idiot.) But ugh, I was honestly considering DNFing through most of the beginning. I laughed when I found out all the kids in Juneau's village are named after Alaskan cities (Nome! WASILLA!). I was irritated that I couldn't connect to Juneau and that she didn't seem to be reacting enough to the traumatic things around her. Juneau is sort of freaking out about the big wide world with all these people in it--sick people, strange people, old people, and modern inventions--but not ENOUGH.
And then she meets up with Miles, through admittedly VERY convoluted means that smack of author manipulation, but whatever, because that was when the book got fun. Miles' voice is fresh and funny. He's a rich LA teen who's just been expelled from high scool four months before graduation. His dad, a rich owner of a pharmaceutical company, wants Juneau for REASONS. Miles, desperate to please his dad, decides to hunt Juneau, ALSO FOR REASONS. It's a dumb ass plan, but whatever. It makes for the fun, so I was okay.
Because Miles and Juneau together WAS fun. Finally I got a sense of who Juneau was, and the way her serious, bizarre personality contrasted with funny, modern, cocky Miles' was kind of hilarious at times. I actually laughed out loud, and I was not expecting to. This is not a high octane thriller, though together Miles and Juneau evade their pursuers and race to rescue Juneau's imprisoned village. In fact, the few action scenes that are included are pretty muddled, and I wouldn't say it's Plum's strength. She's better at building a believable emotion connection between Miles and Juneau. Oh, and at mildly amusing banter.
No, this book is mostly about Juneau coming to terms with the real world, with the lies she's been fed, and with her connected to the Yara, which I honestly found pretty fascinating. Which... okay, there was a lot of camping and betrayal and banter and not a terrible amount of forward movement, but I was entertained. So whatever. Juneau's fish-out-of-water, Yara mysticism is kind of adorably strange, and Miles' "what kind of fuckery is this?" attitude felt real and funny. So even though his reasoning of sticking with her as long as he does is very thin, once they start to bond, it becomes kinda sweet.
But... that... ENDING? I AM SORRY, but that is a TERRIBLE way to end a book! It feels like it just stops right in the middle of the third act! And you're just left with WHAAAA because she's engineered this cliffhanger and AAAAAARGH I actually slammed my kindle and said, angrily and incredulously to my dog, "ARE. YOU. KIDDING? ME?" And my dog just looked at me like, "I dunno, human, what can I say. I'm a dog."
So yeah. I have very conflicted feelings (THAT IS NOT HOW YOU END THE FIRST VOLUME IN A SERIES MS. PLUM), but ultimately I sort of liked this, in spite of myself. And in spite of that ENDING. After the End? More like, after that ending, I am SCREAMING. Or demanding answers to literature's emotional tribulations from my house pet. Normal things.