January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.
Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.
A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?
When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most? — [X]
NOTE: I received an advanced copy for review and–if I liked it enough–a blurb. I kind of loved it, so the blurb happened–except it happened a while back and I think it’s time now for a ramble-y post to remind SF/F lovers of this upcoming (TWO WEEKS!) release.
Anyone who has read Corinne Duyvis’ debut novel Otherbound will tell you two things. One, that it is absolutely unique–from world-building to characters. Two, that it would be very difficult for a second novel to measure up against such a stunning debut. And I’m sure it wasn’t easy by any means, but take from a reader who is hesitant to pick up novels of the post-apocalyptic SF persuasion: A++ for On the Edge of Gone. Would read again. In fact, I did actually read it again to write this post.
It is hard to pin-point which aspect of OTEOG I enjoyed most. Duyvis managed to make everything work in her favour. I can say, however, that the most unique thing about it is Duyvis’ decision to take a set-up like this one and write a story that is driven by character instead of plot. Of course, Duyvis also ensures that this decision doesn’t affect the balance between introspection and action, dialogue and description. All of Denise’s choices reflect how she responds to the world around her, and how the world in turn reflects Denise’s choices and her presence. It is clear that Duyvis had some questions in mind and she dedicated the novel to answering them:
“If I’m writing a story about an autistic girl in the apocalypse—how would she respond differently? How would people feel about her presence? Hey, how does this apocalypse affect other disabled people, anyway, not to mention other marginalized groups?” — [X]
Which is another thing that came off clearly through the book: it isn’t an “issue” book as “diverse” reads, especially ones that have disabled characters, so often are. Denise’s character isn’t a check-list, or a how-to guide. Denise is an autistic and biracial kid, and sure, she has her grievances–who wouldn’t if you had to put up with the kind of benevolent ableism she’s surrounded by–but there is never a moment where her thoughts feel dishonest or didactic.
That said, can I just say how incredibly rare it is to have a leading character like Denise? How incredibly important it is that YA SF finally has a protagonist of colour with a mental illness that is actually acknowledged? Written by someone who has the same disability? And in a setting like this one, where the absence of disabled characters or racial diversity is actually seen as “realistic”? Personally, I relished the idea that Duyvis may be confronting these pathetic excuses for erasure with her second novel. It’s evident in the way the “desperate times call for desperate measures” kind of thinking in the novel takes existing prejudices and turns them into ways to weed out “unworthy” people:
The end of the world is no place for weakness. — Page 29.
Survival, then, becomes a question of how a person’s “value” is conditional to the provision of compassion, mercy, and rescue–not to mention essentials like food, shelter, and community. Ultimately, On the Edge of Gone is the most realistic of worlds, exploring some of the hardest of questions.
If I had to nit-pick, I would say that the setting is the one thing that didn’t make much of an impression on me. I don’t actually think this is a failing on Duyvis’ part, though. I think any city would look the same, subsumed partly by water and partly by panic? Plus, it’s very much possible that as someone who’s never been to the place, I may have missed some significant mentions of cityscape and geography.
Apart from that, I think On the Edge of Gone is quite perfect. It has great, incisive writing, an intense, atmospheric world, and a cast of characters that make me so freaking hopeful about the future of YA speculative fiction. In case Otherbound and my review left anyone doubting, Duyvis’ second novel is a reminder to readers and writers alike that she is an author to watch out for. Definitely recommended! Mark the 8th of March on your calendars!