Ugh. So many things I disliked about this book. I’ll start by saying that though this wasn’t a book I would have chosen for myself, I was looking forward to reading it for that reason (good to try new things!) and also because I do like the post-apocalyptic concept. This book was this month’s selection for my book club. The book is basically about a man and his little boy traveling on a road in a post-apocalyptic world, trying not to starve to death or get killed and eaten by roving marauders. Here are some of my many quibbles:
- In a book that is 240 pages long, it should not take me to literally page 200 before I actually care about the characters. Seriously. There are only 2 main characters and I really didn’t care about them at all.
- I spent the better part of book waiting to find out what the apocalyptic event was, only to have it never described. So I can only wonder, was it nuclear explosion? a series of natural environmental disasters? a single environmental disaster? I really needed to know more. Descriptions of it being cold and everything covered in ash is just not enough. How did we get to this point?
- Along those same lines, the few people left appeared to be completely insane and cannibalistic. That doesn’t just happen because there are no animals or vegetation left, so what gives? Why include the super gruesome images of a beheaded, gutted infant on a spit, a decapitated head under a cakebell, and living humans chained in a basement being kept as food if you’re not going to tell us more about the people behind these things? It seemed slightly sensationalist.
- It didn’t feel like much of a quest because the goal of their journey was slightly unclear. In the beginning it was all about getting to “the coast”, but what was supposed to await them there? A community of people? If so, how do they know about it? Better living? Safety? Food? What?! And then, when they do get there, it seems like they’ll just continue to travel along.
- One of the reasons I didn’t feel very caught up in the welfare of the characters is because the picture painted of the world was so supremely grim. I hoped for their deaths! You couldn’t root for them to survive because what would be the point? There is no food left on the planet and the “normal” people are so emotionally scarred that there doesn’t seem any point in remaining alive. While I felt for a father watching his child starve to death, the thought of them both gently dying didn’t seem upsetting at all. (The thought of them being killed and eaten by the marauders was for sure upsetting, as was the part where the father instructs his little boy on how to kill himself with their one remaining bullet in the event of capture.)
So, a story where I wished the characters would die, couldn’t root for their survival, and couldn’t root for the accomplishment of their “quest” (because what was it?) all adds up to one I really didn’t care for. I also think I just don’t really like McCarthy’s writing style.
Let me recommend four YA books which I have enjoyed much more which explore both post apocalyptic worlds and brutal conditions under war, which I thought had many similarities, and also to show that it is not that I oppose grimness (though I can’t help but think much of the hoopla over this book is because it’s so grim and bleak. )
- Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden–an amazing series out of Australia. A group of teens returns from a camping trip to discover their country has been successfully invaded. They decide to fight back (ala Red Dawn). This is not a pretty little action adventure story-the teens discover the dreadful ability within themselves to commit horrific acts in the name of survival. Look for Burning for Revenge amongst my Bookshelf books.
- the Fire-Us Trilogy by Jennifer Armstrong–a group of children believes they are the only survivors of a plague like virus. Fascinating to see how the very young children have interpreted the world and things they were told.
- Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer–I just read this and found it so unsettling, but really interesting. When the moon is knocked out of orbit and becomes positioned very close to Earth, natural disasters occur, prompting a breakdown of society and civilization. Much like in The Road, these characters face death primarily by starvation.
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff–This was the 2005 Printz winner and completely deserving. A very haunting portrayal of present day life during a fictitious (but very believable) war in England.