Published by St. Martin's Griffin on December 8, 2015
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
When I was in middle school, I loved stories about kids surviving in the wilderness. Hatchet, Julie of the Wolves, My Side of the Mountain, and The Sign of the Beaver were all staples on my tween bookshelf. Sometimes I fantasized about running away and living on my own in the woods, never mind that I had zero wilderness knowledge and gleaned zero enjoyment from being outside for any length of time. Those kids were my soul brothers and sisters. I lived through them. So when the publisher sent me Instructions for the End of the World, I knew it was a must read.
Nicole Reed and family move to a remote house in the wilderness. Nicole’s dad is a survivalist. Her mother hates everything about it. And her sister Izzy couldn’t be bothered. But Nicole has kept a notebook of her father’s survivalist wisdom since she was able to write. She can fix things and hunt animals and take care of herself, which comes in handy when her mother abandons them and her father leaves them alone in the house as he tries to track their mother down. Luckily for Nicole and Izzy, there’s a hippie commune next door. She befriends a quiet teen boy named Wolf, and they forge a relationship while trying to figure out what’s happening in their families. Nicole learns to give a little and let Wolf help her. She starts living in the moment instead of prepping for a future that might never come.
Verdict: Jamie Kain’s prose is lyrical and beautiful and is the kind of prose that you just lose yourself in. Props to her for that. Every word has a specific purpose, no word wasted. I think that’s why she can tell a complete story in just over 200 pages. The novel seemed short, even though it is a complete story. And though I never felt rushed, I ended the book feeling incomplete. I’m not sure why. The story was over. There were no gaps. There were no holes. It just ended. Perhaps it’s because there was no pretty resolution tied in a bow. It’s as if the characters continued to live their lives after I shut the book. Maybe I wanted to know more. Maybe that’s why I felt incomplete.
But then again, maybe that’s the point. There is no pretty bow at the end because, for Wolf, Nicole, and Izzy, their lives aren’t pretty. Their relationships aren’t pretty. They soldier on, wading through the uncertainty.
The romantic tension between Wolf and Nicole is the best I’ve seen in a while. I not only wanted them together, I needed them together. Their fantasies about each other is as close to real as it comes (speaking as a former teen). Impetuous Izzy learns some important lessons about herself. Speak up. Silence is not consent.
And even though the end of the world never actually comes in the dystopian future sense of the phrase, Nicole and Izzy’s life does implode, and it does feel like the end of the world. There are instructions for the end of the physical world–kept in a notebook in Nicole’s room–but there are no instructions for the end of life as she know’s it. And that’s the trouble.
Even though I wanted this book to have more survivalist content and be more like the middle-grade books I loved as a tween, I’m happy with Instructions for the End of the World. It’s a more grown up companion to the survivalist literature I read as a kid.
© 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.