I read quite a few YA post-apocalyptic, dystopian books and I’d say this is about average. It fits within the genre without redefining or contributing in any meaningful way. The writing is clean, almost too clean and sparse, with a lack of exposition that I almost missed. The story is told in three parts and the first part is the best. It grabbed me right from the start and I sped through the first half. The second and third parts definitely slowed and while it’s an easy book to read, and very quick despite the 400-page length, I didn’t love the second and third parts as much. I’ll probably continue with the series if the next book comes out pretty soon but if too much time passes I’ll forget about the series and probably not even cares what happens.
Amy is the narrator and the premise revolves around her survival. She happens to be at home watching TV when the world ends, almost literally. Aliens descend on the world, “Them,” and Amy miraculously survives the initial devastation. She eventually encounters a silent toddler she names Baby and Amy immediately takes care of the girl. Together they have to outwit the aliens, other humans, and the elements before they’re rescued by a contingent of humans working to re-establish the human race and society. However, Amy’s not sure she agrees with their tactics or their choices.
Although the book does get into the consequences of human actions and choices in the later parts of the book, the story stays firmly in action. The first part drops the reader immediately into the chaos and fear of the life Amy is living, trying to survive. Most information is told through flashbacks as Amy pieces together her experiences with her hard won knowledge. We see how she came to live the way she did and this is the first hurdle to get over. Amy just so happens to live in the perfect house. Her father was a hippy conservative so she has a rooftop garden, solar energy, silent appliances, hot showers, power, and water. While her mother was a paranoid government official so she also has access to weapons and an electrical fence. Although extremely unlikely and convenient, I could get over this obvious manipulation because she frankly should have died anyway despite all her lucky breaks.
However, there is so much action and the stark writing helps gives the first part a hair-raising, heart-pounding vibe, that it’s easy to forgive the story manipulations. Likewise there’s no way Baby would have survived, but the story tries valiantly to give explanations that make it ok. Again, it’s a reach and the biggest is when Amy tries to help Amber, but I was engaged in their survival regardless. I started to have some misgivings when Amy and Baby are forced to leave and get rescued by the New Hope society. Here the story slows down considerably, the two aren’t fighting on a daily, it not hourly basis, to survive. Instead it’s the dilemma of other survivors they have to navigate. I was disappointed that the connection between Baby and Amy that drives much of the first part is diluted here as Amy has a lukewarm romance and throws herself into conspiracy theories.
Throughout the book, Amy is written as a hard-ass, tough, intelligent, capable survivor. She has incredible intuition and solid fighting skills that all come from living alone in this post-apocalyptic world. Yet, she continues to make numerous mistakes. I think this is an attempt to humanize her and show her relatively young age and immaturity in the “Before.” Sometimes it worked and sometimes it made her seem so foolish and stupid. The second half flash-forwards foreshadow the consequences of Amy’s foolishness, which kept me from really liking or identifying with her. She gets into trouble of course and the reader knows what will happen before the Amy in the book does, but it’s easy to have seen these consequences coming anyway.
Due to this I never quite liked Amy. She was fine as a protagonist and her actions moved the plot forward when the action stopped but there wasn’t enough justification for all of her risk taking. It’s clear what would happen but she seemed blissfully ignorant. The story does a good job of explaining her reasoning and actions so I never really disliked Amy either. She was more of a neutral narrator for me. I initially liked Baby, despite the overly articulate, overly intelligent characterization they gave to a toddler, but she disappears for most of the last 2/3rds, which is really unfortunate.
The writing which worked so well in the first half – and really I hate to belabor the point but I think the book would have been much stronger if it stayed within that premise alone – starts to falter a bit when the action isn’t the main point. Here the stark, descriptive less prose feels too anemic and bleak to really communicate the human and philosophical element. The actions of the people in New Hope, not surprisingly, have a big impact on the world both Before and After, yet the almost simplistic writing fails to convey the gravity. Here the story needed more weight and complexity to the word choices, at least for me. It’s not poorly written by any means, it’s just the drama of the minimalistic prose doesn’t work when the action stops.
Overall it’s a decent book with some obvious twists. I didn’t give them away but I think they’re very easy to guess even early on. Amy stays in the dark and no doubt the reader is meant to learn things as she does, but she’s pretty slow on the uptake so I wouldn’t be surprised if most figured out the twists early. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the book though and I think the key to enjoying this book, even amongst the genre, is connecting and liking Amy. I didn’t feel one way or the other about her so I found In the After average. The fact that it’s so quick and easy to read helps.
* I received this book as an ARC, soft cover. Since usually libraries won’t take ARC books (mine won’t), I’m happy to send this to anyone that wants it. It’s kind of thick and not something I want to hold onto.