Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review: The Things that Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley

Ann and Peter’s marriage is over, damaged slowly but irreparably by the loss of a child years before. Their two daughters aren’t taking their split well. Ann feels like friends are shutting her out. But now that a pandemic of H5N1 avian flu is threatening their very lives, Ann and Peter face much bigger problems.

This apocalyptic novel hits most of the beats you expect it to, especially if you’ve read this type of “everyman vs large scale catastrophe” angle before (such as LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer or INTO THE FOREST by Jean Hegland). There’s the mass panic race to get food and supplies with shocking moments of human ugliness, the grim reality of modern conveniences dropping away one by one, and the inevitable specter of death close to home. The unique selling point for me as a reader was the fact that it is from a mother’s point of view, a mother that would do anything to keep her children safe – and believe me, this mother has to make some heartbreaking, impossible, horrifying choices.

First-time novelist Buckley does some things amazingly well. The atmosphere she creates is pitch perfect, especially in the early chapters which are creepily foreboding. The narrative arc of Ann and Peter’s relationship is what holds the story together and it is both believable and touching. And there are quite a few memorable scenes that haunt you long after you read the last page (the one with a cough used as a weapon probably haunts me the most).

The plot can stretch credibility a bit with dramatic highs and lows more suitable perhaps for one of those high octane TV disaster movies of the week. Ann and the family are hit with one crisis after another – it’s relentless. But when they do catch a break, their good luck often seems illogical within the framework of the story which can be jarring (I can’t name specifics without spoilers, but if you want to discuss this, e-mail me).

There’s also the not-insignificant matter of the truncated climax and a very unexpected epilogue which switches to the first person perspective of one of the novels most criminally underdeveloped characters. On the one hand, the epilogue is a beautiful and emotional ending, but on the other, I kind of felt like it took the easy way out and left a lot of my questions unanswered.

THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE was released this month in hardcover. Find out more about it at the author's website.

My Rating – 3 Zombie Chickens: Well Worth Reading (I actually vacillated a long time between giving this 3 or 4 Zombie Chickens. So ask me tomorrow and I may have changed my mind!)



P.S. I just have to mention that I adore this cover. I never thought a bird feather could be so scary!

15 comments:

Jenn said...

I love your rating system! Zombie chickens, ha!
The cover of the book seems like it would be on a different genre of novel. I liked your review.

Dar said...

Great review Lenore. I've been debating about reading this one.

Diane said...

Great review Lenore, I've been stalling on this one for some reason but I do want to read it --the cover is gorgeous.

Jeanne said...

I just saw this in the newspaper, because this book is set in the nearest city to me. Guess I should read it for local post-apocalyptic color!

bermudaonion said...

Like Dar, I've been debating over this one and I'm still not sure about it!

Alyce said...

You know it's funny, but I've seen this book around and just assumed it was a book about a child ghost, not a pandemic novel. As long as there isn't anything too supernatural about it I may give it a try at some point.

Staci said...

I have this one on my bookshelf...really need to get into gear on my ARCs. Sounds good!

Staci said...

I have this one on my bookshelf...really need to get into gear on my ARCs. Sounds good!

Beth F said...

I've had my eye on it -- I will likely be adding it to the out-of-control TBR (why isn't BLOB doing more for me?)

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Great review! This one had caught my attention because of its cover, and I was even more excited when I realized it was dystopian. The epilogue sounds a bit problematic but knowing it before reading it might be a good thing! I'm adding it to my TBR list!

Zibilee said...

I can't decide what to think of this book. On the one hand, I think the non development of the characters and the coincidental aspect of the plot might niggle at me, but on the other, this story just sounds too good to pass up. I am going to order a sample for my Kindle and see if it's something I like. Great review! I am loving all the dystopian titles you are reviewing this month!

Steph Su said...

I'm reading this right now, and I agree: it does feel a bit TV movie-esque at times, doesn't it?

Molly said...

I read this because of your review and...yeah, I loved it right up until the epilogue, which was a big pile of "you could have just shown us this, maybe?" Still, beyond that, it was very well-written.

jennifer koch said...

I'm thinking of using this for a teen book club and want to pair it with a classic. Any suggestions? I was thinking Lord of the Flies or maybe Fahrenheit 451. I don't want two apocalyptic novels-too intense, but maybe the other about trusting others and working together...

Lenore Appelhans said...

Hi Jennifer -

Maybe something survivalist? Like HACHET by Gary Paulsen, Survive by Alex Morel or Ashes by Ilsa Bick?