Hot Key Books | 2021 (8 July) | 352p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book
Asteroid Selena is on a collision course with Earth. Several extreme attempts have been made to divert it but all have failed. Now, ten years after its discovery, Mae Cassidy, aged just 17, knows the exact date of her death and it is barely days away. Just like her friends – and enemies – Mae is trying to cope with this knowledge while also dealing with the emotions of growing into adulthood, forming relationships with other teenagers who are also having to shape their last days.
Some fall. There have been three teenage suicides, the latest, Abi, was once Mae’s best friend and now that friendship is being turned against Mae by others in the community. For Mae and Abi were once Forevers, a secret society they developed for coping that makes others feel suspicious and excluded. Meanwhile Selena continues its relentless journey towards the Final.
I can think of no other author writing today who understands and portrays young people as Chris Whitaker can. His wonderful novels (do read them all!) are full of beautifully depicted children and teenagers, many of whom are isolated and lost. It wasn’t a surprise to me that he should now write a Young Adult novel, focusing on the very last generation of teenagers who face unique problems while still going through adolescence and school. Mae is a fascinating character. Her parents dead, she lives with an unsympathetic grandmother and cares for her blind little sister. Mae is already different from everyone else. But now, as the end comes closer, her friendships become more alive as she sees the world with intense, scrutinising eyes.
My favourite character is Felix, the boy who is determined not to sleep a single hour, and will do anything to win over the girl of his dreams who will barely look at him. Here is another reason why I love Chris Whitaker’s books – they are bleak and they are troubled but there is also humour and faith in goodness and kindness. Felix made me laugh time and time again.
The end of the world doesn’t just affect youngsters, of course, and we witness how it damages parents and others. Relationships are tested and ruined. Many become Leavers. People just vanish. Teachers lose motivation every bit as much as their students.
Through it all are memories of the schemes to divert or destroy Selena, and flashbacks to the friendship between Mae and Abi. This is, after all, a novel about friendship and love. For some people, this means religion, for others it means running away in hope of an earthly paradise, and for others it means joining together as the Forevers. It is all so beautifully explored by Chris Whitaker. It isn’t always an easy read – the minds of these teenagers are deeply troubled and fearful – but it is certainly powerful, engrossing and real.
And what a stunning cover!
All the Wicked Girls
We Begin at the End