How High We Go in the Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu (2022)
In the near future, melting permafrost in Siberia unleashes a deadly virus that threatens the future of the species even more than the raging fires and rising seas. This novel is comprised of linked short stories following various characters impacted by the crises in different ways, from someone on the first Siberian expedition and a worker in a euthanasia amusement park for terminally ill children, to those venturing out into space to start over and those they leave behind.
The short story format is helpful in exploring multiple facets of this dystopian world. At the same time, it also suffers the weaknesses and unevenness I often find from short story collection: Not all of the characters and stories ‘hit’ in the same way. Some of the stories dragged, while others I could have happily spent far more time with.
This is the second apocalyptic dystopian novel I’ve read in the past couple weeks, and it offered a wonderful foil to a lot of the things that bothered me about Oryx & Crake. No matter how awful the situation gets in How We Go in the Dark, the characters’ humanity still shines through, even in small ways. There is so much pain and loss in this book, but also so much love and genuine connection. And that feels more authentic to me. Overall, this is a truly beautiful and hopeful, but also realistic, book about a world that is far too reminiscent of our own.
Read this if you’re interested in:
- Science Fiction
- Climate Change
- Grief and Loss
My Rating: Premise 9, Atmosphere 10, Main Character(s) 7, Plot 8, Intrigue 10, Relationships 10, Success 10, Writing 9, Enjoyment 8, Lasting Impact 10: TOTAL 91
When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead (2009), 84: It’s 1979 and twelve-year-old Miranda has a lot going on: If it isn’t enough that her best friend won’t talk to her, her block is feeling less safe by the day, and her hard-working mom spends all her free time studying for a game show, now she has to deal with strange notes from someone who knows things about her life before she does. This is considered by some to be a modern-classic middle grade literature. And, while I enjoyed it quite a bit, ultimately I feel like it’s trying to do a bit too much, simultaneously trying to be a realistic look at life for New York City’s working poor in the late ‘70s and part time-travel mystery. Either one of these would have been great, but the combination of both was a bit too jarring for me for it to succeed on all fronts. (Middle Grade, Science Fiction, 1970s, New York City, Friendship, Time Travel)
The Call of the Wild, Jack London (1903), 91: A large domestic dog is stolen and sold as a work dog during the Klondike Gold rush, where he becomes increasingly drawn to life in the wild. Even as someone who doesn’t have an affinity towards animal protagonists or life ‘in the wild’, I genuinely enjoyed this short classic. London’s style is spare but lively and it fits the themes, setting, and story perfectly. (Animal Protagonists, Nature and Nurture, The Wilderness, 19th Century)
Punch Me Up to the Gods, Brian Broome (2021), 80: A memoir of about growing up as a gay, black man in the Rust Belt, and the many and varied experiences of alienation and exclusion that taught the author to hate himself, his skin and his sexuality, and the ‘communities’ that go along with both. The stories are hard to read — and that’s a good thing. It’s important to learn about the harsh realities of other people’s lives. But, because there is very little in the way of joy or community to leaven it, for me the book ended up being bit of a ‘one note’ vortex of misery. There was no ‘after’ here, so the overall narrative had no shape to it. This is the story the author needed to tell, and I’m glad he was able to tell it so successfully. But for this reader, it didn’t quite work well as I’d have hoped. (Memoir, Black Experience, LGBTQ2S+, Intersectionality, Black Fathers and Sons)
When We Were Very Young, A.A. Milne (1924), 81: This century-old collection of poems for small children, which features the first reference to Mr. Edward Bear (aka Winnie-the-Pooh) was fascinating. There’s an interesting mix here of intelligent wit and trust in a juvenile audience to rise to it, some nostalgia of ‘simpler times gone by’, and the audacious self-confidence of British culture of the time. (Poetry, Childrens Literature, 1920s, Interwar Great Britain)
Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo (2000), 72: A lonely girl builds community in her small town after adopting a stray dog. This is considered a modern classic of children’s literature, but it really didn’t work for me. The plot was facile and seemed to boil down to ‘dogs make life better.’ (Children’s Literature, Dogs, Small Towns, Friendship, Family, Loss)
Big Kids, Michael Deforge (2016), 73: This graphic novel follows a troubled queer high schooler as he grows into himself, and the relationships around him start to change — not always for the better. I have to say I didn’t quite get this one. While I’m not super familiar with Deforge’s work, he seems to be in the avant-garde of the graphic world and this certainly fits that bill, from the unique style of the drawings to a rather surrealist ending that was a bit too out there for this reader to understand. (Graphic Novel, YA, Coming of Age, LGBTQ2S+)
Bear, Marian Engel (1976), 79: A city woman goes to a remote island in Northern Ontario where she discovers herself anew. This has been called the ‘most controversial book in Canadian history’ and also the ‘best Canadian novel.’ I understand both sides of this. It’s obviously controversial, since the woman has an affair with a bear (literally); but it uses that device to serve a very tongue-in-cheek and satirical exploration of the themes of second-wave feminism. I didn’t love it and certainly would never call it anywhere near the best Canadian novel, but I get what she was doing and it’s fairly effective, if very on the nose (and gross, don’t forget gross). (CanLit, Classics, Feminism, Erotica, The Wilderness)
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