The country is on the brink of anarchy. Technically, there are still local, state, and federal governments but they aren’t able to handle many if any of the nation’s problems. Unemployment, homelessness, illness, drug abuse are all rampant. Because of these woes, individuals frequently turn to drugs and/or violence to try and solve their problems. But for 18 year old Lauren, her family, and her cul-de-sac, they turn to each other. They have walled off their road and turn to each other for protection and mutual aid. Complicating things is the fact that Lauren is a sharer, someone who suffers from hyper-empathy syndrome. When she sees people bleeding, she bleeds herself. When she sees someone in pain, she feels the exact same pain herself. This complicates survival when, at time, you gotta do what you gotta do. No spoilers or plot points, but this is a story of a band of people just trying to survive while keeping their morals in tact.
Woven through the book is the discussion of Earthseed, the religion that Lauren developed. Each chapter begins with a quote from Lauren’s religious text. Sometimes, when authors include quotes from other fictitious texts as chapter starters, it comes across as gimmicky. But not here. Each quote and verse perfectly sets the tone for the chapter. Had I read this in high school, I would have eaten this belief system up. Or at the very least, the process by which Lauren questions and develops her beliefs. Lauren’s journey in establishing Earthseed reads as incredibly genuine. Everything is informed by her current situation, and it was fascinating to read through Lauren’s thought processes.
Another aspect that I loved about this book is the Butler’s treatment of every character: tender yet direct. Lauren does not make excuses for herself, her beliefs, or her condition, yet the people around her know that care must be taken to protect her. People have had to engage in certain behaviors that they otherwise might not have in order to survive. Butler treats these decisions with compassion and understanding of the context, yet she never backs away from reality.