Strange Exit: A Review

“No one earned their salvation. Only the rich and lucky survived.”

Strange Exit by Parker PeevyhouseIn the advance of a nuclear holocaust, a group of teenagers won a lottery to escape Earth aboard a spaceship designed to keep them safe until it was time to return. In stasis all of the passengers enter a complex virtual reality simulation to prepare them for that return.

After sleeping for decades, many of them are still unwilling to wake up–unwilling to admit that even the sim’s barren wastelands might be worse than what they’ll face on Earth after being gone so long.

But the ship was never meant to house them forever. Food is running out. Equipment is breaking down. Still the ship won’t return to Earth. Not until everyone is out of the sim.

No one is supposed to go back in; it’s too easy to get trapped, to want to stay forever. But someone has to wake the sleepers so Lake risks it. She secretly searches the sim’s post-apocalyptic pockets for survivors ready to wake up while desperately wishing her sister was on board the ship too instead of just part of the sim.

When she rescues Taren, Lake finds an unexpected ally ready to help her search the sim. But as the situation on the ship becomes even more dire, Lake realizes Taren is willing to take dangerous chances waking the sleepers and to sacrifice whoever he has to if it means reactivating the ship. Lake isn’t ready to lose anyone else on the ship, not after they’ve all lost so much. Now Lake will to work against Taren to find the heart of the sim and shut it down herself before it’s too late in Strange Exit (2020) by Parker Peevyhouse.

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The story alternates close third person narration primarily from Lake’s point of view with chapters from other key characters including Taren. While the story starts strong with an engrossing opening, it is slow to build to any of the twists readers familiar with the genre may expect. Similarly, the characters who receive the most attention are often at cross purposes with the plot’s forward momentum.

Strange Exit is an eerie science fiction story set against the stark backgrounds of a failing spaceship and the ominous post-apocalyptic sim. Peevyhouse’s world building is top notch as she brings both landscapes painfully to life bringing new dimension to what is otherwise familiar sci-fi territory.

Possible Pairings: To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers, Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski, Warcross by Marie Lu, The Final Six by Alexandra Monir, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, The Matrix

Skyhunter: A Review

Skyhunter by Marie LuThe country of Mara is fighting a losing war against the Karensa Federation and its superior technology harnessed from the Early Ones–a fallen civilization readers will readily recognize in our present one.

Mara was supposed to be a safe haven for Talin and her mother. Instead refugees are kept outside the city walls and Talin’s status as an elite Striker can’t make some see her as anything more than a “Basean rat” who Marans look down on for little more than her skin color and the shape of her eyes.

As a Striker on the warfront Talin fights Ghosts–humans who have been horrifically re-engineered by the Federation to become monsters intent only on killing. When Talin saves a mysterious prisoner of war she may have also found the key to beating the Federation–but first she has to decide if the prisoner is a potential weapon or an ally in Skyhunter (2020) by Marie Lu.

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This post-apocalyptic, sci-fi adventure is a visceral exploration of the emotional and physical costs of war. Poison gas scarred Talin’s vocal chords leaving her unable to speak as much from the trauma as the injury; she instead communicates with the sign language used by Strikers.

Talin’s narration is caustic as questions of allegiance and loyalty move the plot forward with Talin and her friends struggling to save a country that offered Talin refuge while withholding common decency–a dichotomy she again has to struggle with while deciding if the enemy prisoner she has rescued is someone to be saved or something to be exploited.

At the cliffhanger end of Skyhunter Mara’s fate is far from secure leaving readers to wait for answers in the conclusion to this duology. Suspense and high-action fights make this plot-driven story both fast-paced and brutal.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

A Beginning At the End: A Review

A Beginning at the End by Mike ChenA global pandemic has changed the societal landscape and devastated the population. In the wake of the End of the World, while many people are waiting for life to return to normal, four people are trying to move forward as best they can.

Moira, a former pop star, used the initial outbreak as a chance to break away from her controlling father and start a new life. Six years later, Moira is living as normal a life as anyone can now. At least until her father begins a public campaign to try and find her.

While everyone else hides inside or behind surgical masks offering flimsy protection, Krista throws herself into the world planning events for people unwilling to risk the physical interactions themselves. But not many people are planning parties with the threat of a new outbreak looming and Krista is one cancelled event away from losing everything.

Rob survived. His wife didn’t. All Rob wants is to bring up his daughter, Sunny, as best he can. The only problem is new government regulations threaten to take Sunny away to place her in a more stable family environment.

In a world waiting to return to a normal that might never come Moira, Krista, Rob, and Sunny will need each other more than anything if they want to survive in A Beginning At the End (2020) by Mike Chen.

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Chen’s sophomore novel explores themes of connection and survival against a post-apocalyptic San Francisco setting with chapters alternating between Moira, Krista, and Rob’s perspectives.

Evocative descriptions and thorough world building make this story of a global pandemic eerily timely although a slow start fails to build the momentum needed for later plot points and twists.

A Beginning at the End is a character driven, post-apocalyptic novel that offers hope for the current situation we are in with the Covid-19 global pandemic. In short come for the post-apocalyptic landscape, stay for the feels.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders; Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton; The Salt Line by Sally Goddard-Jones; In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen; The Fireman by Joe Hill; The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin; Severance by Ling Ma; Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel; The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah