Icie’s parents give her a backpack that has $10,000 in cash, a map to a top-secret bunker in Nevada, and the command of getting there no matter what. A viral attack is looming, and they want her to get to safety. With three other teens, Icie stays locked away for months, not knowing what the outside world holds. Meanwhile, generations in the future, a mysterious cult worships the mountain where Icie and the other teens lived. They never leave the mountain, but they have bizarre ties to Icie. What is the connection?
Although Grant’s post-apocalyptic novel is thought-provoking, the execution is so shoddy that the result is a bit of a mess. Blame this on Grant’s desire to examine the after-effects of a bioterrorist attack, both immediately and in the distant future. The problem with the narrative structure here is that one half of the novel is so, so much stronger than the other.
Icie’s time navigating her way to the bunker and the subsequent months she spends sequestered with the trio of other teens is the far more compelling story. The four teens are increasingly frustrated by their situation, and the claustrophobic life they lead makes for some harrowing reading. There’s genuine anxiety here, and this part of the story will hook readers.
In contrast, the group of narrators who make up the second narration in the story are far less interesting. While there is some cool stuff here, and some readers will love making the connections between the language of the cult and the girls who came before them, there isn’t enough to sustain the narrative as long as it goes on for.
That being said, this novel presents an interesting premise and some fascinating ideas, and it will find an audience. Uneven pacing make this one more of a slog to get through than it should be.
Half Lives by Sara Grant. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Library copy.