Author: Greg Van Eekhout
Genre: Speculative Fiction (Post-Apocalyptic), Middle Grade
Publication date: June 21, 2011
Hardcover: 224 pages
Fisher is the last boy on earth-and things are not looking good for the human race. Only Fisher made it out alive after the carefully crafted survival bunker where Fisher and dozens of other humans had been sleeping was destroyed.
Luckily, Fisher is not totally alone. He meets a broken robot he names Click, whose programmed purpose-to help Fisher “continue existing”-makes it act an awful lot like an overprotective parent. Together, Fisher and Click uncover evidence that there may be a second survival bunker far to the west. In prose that skips from hilarious to touching and back in a heartbeat, Greg van Eekhout brings us a thrilling story of survival that becomes a journey to a new hope-if Fisher can continue existing long enough to get there.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Why did I read this book: I saw this book on Goodreads one day, and thought it looked and sounded good.
How did I get this book: I was offered a review copy by the author after I posted about it on my radar.
The boy became born in a pod filled with bubbling gel and the only things he knew were: his name was Fisher, he was alone and the world was a dangerous place as evidenced by the destruction around him. Becoming born in the midst of the world falling apart is not exactly the best way to go about it but instinct tells Fisher that it’s better run and survive first and examine his unfortunate situation later. Fisher cuts the (plastic) umbilical cord that connects him to his pod and discover other pods which appear to be broken and the creatures inside them – humans, animals – dead. As the debris keep falling around him he discovers something else he knows: profanity. It is the first word he ever spoke and he utters more of those as he bawls like the newly born that he is and runs for his life.
Thus The Boy at the End of the World starts: with a bang. We soon learn that this is a post-apocalyptic world, thousands of years in the future, after the humans have destroyed themselves by exploiting nature without thinking of the consequences. As an last effort to save the human race before it became extinct, scientists created this Ark and placed several species in hibernation, until it was the right time to awake them in order to repopulate the world. Something goes really wrong though, and the Ark is attacked and destroyed and the last of the Robot-custodians saves the only person he can – the boy, whom he imprints with the Fisher personality. Fisher and the robot, whom he calls Click, have only one directive to follow: Fisher’s survival; and both will do anything to ensure that Fisher makes it. But then they learn that there were other Arks and the possibility of other humans being alive sets them in a perilous journey, against Click’s better judgment, across a devastated landscape filled with dangers.
The Boy at the End of the World is a fun, fast-paced adventure and I enjoyed several aspects of it. The post-apocalyptic world was believable in terms that it could actually happen. Unlike my esteemed co-blogger Thea, I am not yet a huge connoisseur of post-apocalyptic stories and tropes, but one thing that I do know is that the apocalyptic scenario needs to be believable for me to engage with, or even buy into a story. In that sense, this particular book hits its target: the humans in this world effectively wrote themselves off-history with their own actions. It also made sense to me how several species have evolved the way they did especially since this story takes place well in the future.
Another great aspect of this story is the balance between real danger and comic relief. With regards to the former, characters do get hurt (and killed) although perhaps not as much as they could have – but maybe understandably so, considering the target audience. The latter appears in the relationship between Fisher and Click and when another creature joins their entourage: a pygmy mammoth whom Fisher calls Protein, after his first impulse to well, consume it. Fisher also has great funny moments:
If he died, nobody would be around to ask what had finally killed off the human species. Which was a little bit of a good thing, because the answer – ‘They were eaten by parrots’ – was not the kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind.
Those aside, what seems to be the main theme and the better developed aspect of the novel was the role that Fisher plays in this world. He is effectively, as far as he knows, the last human being on the planet. But of course, any “last” human being in any story who has any interest in continuing the species also has to be the first one. This dichotomy, this idea, is toyed with as he is both the receiver of a personality, ie the Fisher, that comes with a lot of pre-existent knowledge about fishing (this would have been his role in the society had all the other humans in his Ark become born as well) and reading for example; but everything else, he has to learn. Just like our ancestors, Fisher has to learn to make fire; to think about making his own shoes; to learn to entrap and skin his prey; to live in community and think of the greater good. And so on and so forth, if he wants to live. Which he does, and badly so.
What worked less effectively were the very plain writing and the small sections with info-dump as Click relayed history to Fisher but perhaps those were inevitable considering the circumstances and I don’t think these will pose a problem to the target audience of this book. But there was also those moments in which the past actions that landed humanity in so much problem were remembered and came perilously close to preaching with regards to the “destructive results of technology”. Although it is easy to see how playing with the environment and biology can be a bad thing I find this immensely counter-intuitive especially within the confines of this very story – seeing as how said technology is exactly what will allow humans to come back. Now, if that is a good thing or not, not only Fisher, but you and I will have to figure out for ourselves. That there is no answer to that question is another thing that I find extremely positive about this book.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:
This is what he knew:
His name was Fisher.
The world was dangerous.
He was alone.
And that was all.
Fisher became born in a pod filled with bubbling gel. A plastic umbilical cord snaked from his belly. When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw through the clear lid of the pod was destruction. Slabs of concrete and twisted steel fell to the floor amid clouds of dust. Severed wires spit sparks into the air. The world was coming apart.
Something told Fisher to get up, get out, run away while he still could.
The world instinct came to mind.
He pushed against the pod lid and it came open with a hiss. The gel stopped bubbling and drained away through holes at the bottom of the pod. Cold air struck Fisher’s wet skin when he sat up. It was the first time he’d ever been cold, and he hated it.
He’d made a mistake. He never should have opened the lid. He never should have made himself become born. Maybe if he just lay back down and closed the lid the gel would return and he could go back to sleep and he’d be warm and everything would be all right.
A huge, explosive thud hammered Fisher’s ears. The ground shook and the dim lights in the ceiling wavered and died. It was some kind of disaster. Or an attack. Fisher didn’t know anything about attacks, except they were dangerous and should be avoided.
Pipes clanged against the floor and more debris rained down. More sparks, more dust. Bitter air stung his nostrils. Fisher had never smelled this smell before. In fact, it was pretty much the first thing he’d ever smelled. He was only a few moments old, after all, and hadn’t had time to smell much. Somehow, though, he knew the smell meant things were burning around him.
There was no choice now. He had to make himself all the way born and get out of whatever this place was before everything burned and crashed around him. He swung his legs over the side of the pod and set his bare feet down on the cold floor. He took a step, and then another, and that was as far as he got. The umbilical tugged him back. It was still attached to his belly. He would have to yank it out if he was going to become all the way born. But there was just no way he could do that. He knew this wasn’t how things were supposed to be. His birth was supposed to be soft. He was supposed to be soothed and bathed in light. He wasn’t supposed to be alone.
Another shuddering whomp, and Fisher’s ears popped. It felt like something massive had struck the building. Debris clattered down. A big chunk of ceiling fell right in front of him, and Fisher discovered another thing he knew: Profanity. Profanity was a collection of words that helped express strong feelings.
Fisher uttered a word from his profanity collection now.
It was the first word he ever spoke.
I am extremely sad to report that I believe the cover of this book to be the newest case of whitewashing to hit the shelves. And the culprit? One chance to guess. (Yes, it’s Bloomsbury. Again.)
Two passages in the book led me to believe that Fisher is a PoC:
On page 17 (of the ARC) Click tells Fisher:
Your skin is darkly pigmented to give you some protection from sun exposure”
On page 106 (of the ARC) Fisher looks at himself:
His own reflection stared back him, dark and lean and scratched.
The boy in the cover of this book does not look “darkly pigmented”.
He looks like a white guy with a tan. Actually, scratch that – he doesn’t look like anything at all. This image on this cover portrays a boy with his back to the reader in a darkly-lit-I-can-hardly-see environment, and there is nothing to connect the reader with Fisher in the cover. This frustrates me like you wouldn’t believe, not only because whitewashing is simply wrong (and you can read more about why HERE) but because this exemplifies how reluctant publishers are to actually put a black person on the cover of a book. For a counterpoint, let’s look at the previous book from this same author and the same publisher. This book gets a cover where you can actually SEE not only the boy but also his personality.
Why is it that a cover featuring a white character accurately conveys the snarky personality of the protagonist from the book, whereas covers for books featuring PoC characters are either photoshopped, whitewashed, or reduced to amorphous/glowy/hard-to-see images?
This cover is in our opinion a different type of whitewashing – instead of blatantly substituting a white character for a person of color, the cover bypasses the appearance of the character by keeping the art/lighting/character features intentionally ambiguous. In this way, people can justify the cover by making these sorts of arguments: but he’s only described as “DARK” in the book, it never says he’s “BLACK;” this guy is hard to make out on the cover and he’s kind of dark, so therefore it’s not really whitewashing. We couldn’t disagree more. In our opinion, yes, this is still whitewashing.
I am not the only one to report on this either. Check out School Library Journal’s review of the book.
This has got to stop, folks. It is getting ridiculous.
Edited to add: the author wrote an interesting post on his blog today entitled The Color of the Boy at the End of the World in which he clarifies the appearance of the character beyond what was written in the book as well as talking about the process of creating the cover.
Rating: 6 – Good, leaning toward 7
Reading next: The 10PM Question by Kate de Goldi
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Ebook available for kindle