The first time Lynn killed a man, she was 9 years old. Her mother taught her the ways of shooting and with good reason: she and Lynn had something highly coveted. A small pond of water, in a world that was desperate for it. Now into her teenage years, Lynn is used to the lonely life she and her mother tend to, a life that cycles only around surviving. Collecting and purifying water is their number one priority. Hunting and growing another. Keeping the men who want to take over their property away by any means possible is the third priority, and there’s only one certain way to take care of that task.
When her mother is killed by an unexpected enemy, Lynn is forced to connect with the one person in town she has had contact with during her young life: their neighbor Stebb, a man about her mother’s age who she once found maimed by a bear trap, left partially crippled by the injury. Stebbs is a good ally, but he sees further outside the world of Lynn’s home than her mother allowed her to look. Soon they are aiding a family of city-slickers who are on the run from the law with children in tow. But by opening her heart to others, Lynn is opening herself and her home up to new dangers. How can she negotiate this turn of her life but maintain the survival instincts her mother instilled in her?
So when I was in fourth grade, we watched the movie based on Hatchet, and after watching a kid eat bugs and swim around with a dead body, I decreed myself a hater of all survival fiction and banished it from my life. But last month, 25 years laterish, I devoured Kate Marshall’s I Am Still Alive (reviewed here), and immediately followed it up with this — so maybe it’s my new genre now! I really enjoyed this! It is set in a near future, and I learned about it on a YA podcast I love (Hey YA by Book Riot). They share it a lot, but the last time they did it was in an episode highlighting “cli-fi” aka climate-based science fiction. I’m not sure why I’d beat myself up and read books about a future that feels too realistic, but there you go. It’s riveting stuff! This book feels more survival than sci-fi, and I think that’s because of the setting and how people are forced to live in it. Technology is referenced but not present, and while it sounds like life in the city may be similar to most dystopian fiction, the author doesn’t waste too much time getting into that, because the scope of the drama is hyper-focused on Lynn’s very small world. And that works!
The narration is sparse and steady — I haven’t read any Westerns, but in some ways that’s how this feels, though it’s set in rural Ohio. Must be all the sharp-shooting. Lynn reads quite differently than most teen narrators, having grown into a seemingly cold and ruthless woman at the ripe old age of 16. When she meets Eli, a boy her age on the run with his family, rather than instantly fall for him the minute they meet, he is more of a curiosity to her, having never interacted with anyone else her own age. And it makes it more rewarding and fun when they do start to fall for each other.
The main conflict of the book is as much about her opening her heart to the idea of community as it is about her protecting her water and her property and her life. It feels very unique in the realm of YA fiction in that regard. I may pick up the companion novel, which is set further in the future when Eli’s little sister grows into a teen.
If you like audiobooks, that’s how I read this one – and the narration is great!