I’m having so many thoughts and feelings while reading this that I decided to write a reaction post as I read, rather than try to do a traditional review.
The story is narrated by Denise, a biracial autistic teen living in Amsterdam. It opens as the earth is just about to be hit by a comet. Denise and her mother are late leaving for their assigned shelter, because they’re waiting for Denise’s missing sister, Iris.
— I wonder if the author wrote this partially to address her own fears about how she might survive as an autistic person in a cataclysmic disaster? I know it’s something I’ve thought about a lot myself — one of the reasons I’m really not attracted to dystopian fiction — and especially now that I have an autistic son. When I told my husband the premise, that’s immediately where his mind went and he thought the book would be too scary to read.
(One of my favorite stories is John Varley’s The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged). You can read it online. In it he writes,
“We all love after-the-bomb stories. If we didn’t, why would there be so many of them? There’s something attractive about all those people being gone, about wandering in a depopulated world, scrounging cans of Campbell’s pork and beans, defending one’s family from marauders. Sure, it’s horrible, sure we weep for all those dead people. But some secret part of us thinks it would be good to survive, to start all over.
Secretly, we know we’ll survive. All those other folks will die. That’s what after-the-bomb stories are all about.”
Not me. I have never believed that. In my scenario, if I survive, I will undoubtedly die shortly thereafter.)
— Denise’s beloved missing sister is a trans woman. This worries me in a post-apocalyptic story. (It turns out not to be an issue at all.)
— (32%) I appreciate the nuance of this portrait and it feels really well balanced. Denise is realistically having trouble dealing with stress and melting down, but she’s also contributing. She’s neither SuperAutistic Girl or Autistic Robot Girl.
— (37%) “It’s the end of the world; I knew I would have to change. ”
I pondered this sentence for awhile. It seems an ableist point of view. I guess Denise means she will have to be really brave? To do things that are very hard for her? Does she really think she can just decide to change?
— (60-something%) This plan is so messed up. Does no one think about what it will be like to spend the rest of your life stuck with people who will utterly hate you?
— The moral ambiguity in this scenario is excruciating. I hope the story will find some good way to resolve it, but I can’t imagine what.
— Oh. Now I understand what the earlier thought about needing to change was about. It is an ableist point of view, because it’s internalized ableism. Denise thinks she has to be more “normal” and useful in order to justify her existence in the post-apocalyptic world.
Ending — Wow. Just wow. I’m so impressed with how this played out. It’s an amazing book. I wish I could read it to my son without scaring him to death. This is why #ownvoices matter.