Thursday, July 07, 2016

On the Way Out

Corinne Duyvis's On the Edge of Gone actually came out a while ago; I got a copy from Netgalley, but the formatting of the reviewer copy was messed up, so I had to wait till I got it from the library to read it.  It was definitely worth reading.

A comet is going to hit the earth, and people have been preparing.  Some are on generation ships, self-sustaining biospheres that will find other planets to inhabit over years in the stars.  Others lucked into permanent shelters, where they're provisioned to wait out the years it will take for the earth to recover from the devastation.

The rest of the population weathers the impact in temporary shelters and then tries to survive the year-long winter, the storms and floods and dangers.  Denise is one of these, and at the beginning of the book she and her mother and sister have just a few hours to get to their shelter before the impact. But her sister is missing, and her mother is dithering, and they're going to miss their window. When they stop to help the victims of a motorcycle crash, Denise knows they've missed their chance at the shelter.

But the women they rescue lead her to something better--a generation ship, not yet launched.  Can they get on board? What will happen to Iris? What will happen to the world?

It's damning Duyvis with faint praise to say that one of the most impressive things about this book is the representation. It's rather glorious how all sorts of people inhabit this world so casually.  Iris is transgender, Denise is autistic, and her mother is an addict.  Iris and Denise are also biracial. Other characters are gay and Muslim and also autistic and all kinds of other things, and some of these things are plot-relevant and some are relevant only as they matter to the characters themselves.  But the most interesting question, the one that Denise poses by her very existence, is whether the fact that someone has needs that are different from the average means that they shouldn't be met?

There's so much great stuff here--how different everyone's emotions are during intense experiences; how hard people work to try to help each other and stay calm, even when not everyone can. How everything has consequences--can I tell you how great it was to read a book where a character is seriously injured and is actually prevented from doing a lot of things for days and days after the injury? It's refreshing that an accident, or a death, or the end of the world is freaking people out, and that those emotions come and go in cycles.

Another theme that I always find fascinating is scarcity. We live in a world where, while we're not exactly post-scarcity, many of us have the privilege of thinking in post-scarcity terms.  It's easy for me to say that everyone should have enough to eat when I have more than enough to eat.  But if there wasn't enough food for everyone, what does fair and righteous look like? Does someone being a drug addict make them less "deserving" of resources? If not the fact of her addiction, what behaviors would do so?  What about Denise, whose autism makes her uncomfortable in many situations (being touched, being rushed), but who is otherwise a functional young adult?

In the end, the book shies away from answering the scarcity question with an ending that's not only optimistic but with lots of room for sunshine and lollipops.  But the book asked the questions and addressed consequences, and I wish more books would do both things.

It wasn't perfect.  It sagged a bit in the middle, treading water (ha, literally! It takes place in Amsterdam) while all the pieces got in place for the final act.  The story was good, but it's the ideas, the questions, and the characters that are great--warm, compassionate, and challenging.

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