Published by Disney-Hyperion on 4/7/15
Genres: Family, Middle Grade
My content rating: MG
The signs are everywhere, Jory's stepfather, Caleb, says.Red leaves in the springtime. Pages torn from a library book. All the fish in the aquarium facing the same way. A cracked egg with twin yolks. Everywhere and anywhere. And because of them Jory's life is far from ordinary. He must follow a very specific set of rules: don't trust anyone outside the family, have your works at the ready just in case, and always, always watch out for the signs. The end is coming, and they must be prepared.
School is Jory's only escape from Caleb's tight grasp, and with the help of new friends Jory begins to explore a world beyond his family's farm. As Jory's friendships grow, Caleb notifies Jory's mother and siblings that the time has come for final preparations.
They begin an exhausting schedule digging a mysterious tunnel in anticipation of the disaster. But as the hold gets deeper, so does the family's doubt about whether Caleb's prophecy is true. When the stark reality of his stepfather's plans becomes clear, Jory must choose between living his own life or following Caleb, shutting his eyes to the bright world he's just begun to see.
This book is really tough to review because I loved it, right up until the very end, when I thought, “Wait? That’s it?” Still, I’ve given myself a little time to ponder it, and I think I’m okay with the abrupt ending – mostly.
The book follows Jory, whose family is preparing for – something. He’s never really quite sure what – he just knows that his stepfather is sure that something bad is coming, and that they need to be prepared. So, they begin to dig a shelter in the canyon out behind their house. Every night, for hours, Jory and his family dig. Meanwhile, Jory’s family’s new schedule allows him a little more freedom – one day a week, Jory has off so that he can catch up with school. He finds himself spending the time that his family is sleeping with a few kids from school, and he is surprised to find that he actually starts to connect with them – and he likes it. This is something new for him. But balancing his family’s secrets (both the canyon and Jory’s younger sister who I’ll talk about more specifically in my review) and his new life and friendships gets to be very tricky. And Jory starts to wonder if his strange but charismatic stepfather might just be wrong.
What I loved:
- The concept. I’ve watched TV shows about families who are preparing for an apocalypse of some type or another. There were tons of people who thought the world would end in 2012, and there are still plenty of people who are ready for the end to come in one form or another (you can even buy your own zombie-proof shelter). I find it all kind of fascinating. There’s a little part of me that thinks it might not be so horrible to be prepared, just in case, but I’d hate to live in constant fear of “something,” which is exactly what Jory’s family does.
- Broken family dynamics. Since Jory is a kid, his instinct is to trust his stepfather and believe that something very bad is going to happen, even if his stepfather can never really say what it’s going to be. Jory loves his stepfather and he wants to believe in him, but it gets more and more difficult as he starts to realize how different his family is from the rest of the world. Jory’s mother has her own issues, which make her extremely dependent on Caleb (her husband). She feels like Caleb has saved them in some ways, so she is pretty much willing to go along with anything he says. She doesn’t seem to be one hundred percent sure if she believes everything that Caleb says, but she loves him and feels like she should support him. As Jory gets older, I think he starts to realize that people can actually have things wrong with them that cause them to not be able to make decisions properly and he starts to finally doubt. Which brings me to my next point …
- Mental health issues. While nothing is ever named in the book, it’s obvious that pretty much everyone in Jory’s family (except for him and his baby brother) have some type of mental health issue. Since the book is told from Jory’s POV, we see his parents through his eyes – the good and the bad. It becomes apparent that Caleb probably suffers from some form of PTSD (from his time in the military), which has morphed into this fear of the end of everything and a distrust of authority. Jory’s mother obviously suffers from some sort of anxiety – possibly agoraphobia. She can’t handle the world around her, which is why she feels like Caleb has saved them by taking them in. Then there’s Jory’s younger sister, Kit – you find out early on that Jory simply found Kit in their pumpkin patch one day and they took her in. She doesn’t speak, so you can only assume that there was some sort of trauma in her past. I actually really appreciated seeing all of these people through the eyes of a child – Jory’s POV is a unique insight into mental health issues because he’s somewhat naive and doesn’t really know what to make of any of it. He knows that his family members are “different,: but he doesn’t exactly understand how or to what extent that difference reaches.
- Compelling story. I found myself completely drawn in to this story. I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to unravel the mysteries – what was Caleb so afraid of? What was Kit’s story? (For a short period, I almost thought that Kit was somehow supernatural – but, again, the book is told from a child’s perspective, so he’s not always a reliable narrator.) What would happen once people started to find out their secrets? Unfortunately, while I was completely drawn in to the mysteries and LOVED the journey, I didn’t get many answers in the end, which brings me to my negative point …
- Very abrupt ending. When I got to the last page of the book, I was a bit shocked because it just sort of – ended. I mean, there was a little bit of resolution – you find out what happens with Jory and his family when it comes to the shelter, but it felt very sudden and abrupt. Honestly, I couldn’t put this book down because I really wanted to find out what was going to happen and when I got there … I felt a little let down. Likewise, you never get answers to any of the mysteries surrounding Kit. Where did she come from? Why did she never speak? What happened to her (and the rest of the family) in the end? You’re left to draw your own conclusions about all of these things. I prefer a bit more closure to my endings, and most middle grade readers that I know definitely do (my 12-year-old son flat out refused to read this one when he heard that you don’t really find out what happens to everyone in the end). So, at the end, this book quickly went from being a book that I adored to a book that I liked.
I adored most of this book. I connected to Jory and absolutely adored his little sister Kit – and I was incredibly intrigued, wondering what would happen to this unstable family. Unfortunately, the ending left me hanging, which negated some (but not all) of my enjoyment of the rest of the book. Overall, I still give it 4/5 stars.
***Disclosure: I received this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
In search of transcendent backdrops for her novels, Kirsten Hubbard has hiked ancient ruins in Cambodia, dived with wild dolphins in Belize (one totally looked her in the eye), slept in a Slovenian jail cell, and navigated many desert apocalypses (usually in face paint and combat boots). But she always comes home to California.
Kirsten is the author of YA novels LIKE MANDARIN and WANDERLOVE, available now from Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books; CLOUDFOREST and RED ROCKS, coming from Egmont USA in 2016 & 2017; and MG novel WATCH THE SKY, coming from Disney-Hyperion in 2015.