by Hugh Howey
Daniel Stillman has 42 Facebook friends. His cell phone contains 18 contacts, two of them for pizza delivery. Six people follow him on Twitter. Four readers subscribe to his blog; he's pretty sure one of them followed him on accident.
And now a category 5 storm is about to wipe all this away.
In its wake will be left a single girl, a neighbor he never knew, and a new reprieve from the digital maelstrom of his life, a great silence like the eye of some terrific storm.
Daniel, a lonely, awkward teenager has just begun his senior year when an unexpected monster of a storm brings his world, filled with technophiles, modern convenience, and high school drama, to a grinding halt. After the hurricane moves through, he discovers that it's blown two people unexpectedly into his life-- a figure from the painful past-- and a refreshingly different "girl-next-door" who just may be the harbinger of a promising future.
I'm not sure how to rate this book... if I even did "rate" books on a scale... It's not at all what I expected, and I blame that at least partly on the misleading blurb. (There are a couple different ones floating around out there, and neither of them are really good, imho.) Based on the blurb, I was expecting much more of a tale of catastrophe. It sounds like Daniel will be alone with this "single girl"... and that they'll have to rely on one another to survive-- for a while, at least. Instead, his whole family is there with him, too, and while they have to conserve their resources, there's not much risk involved, once the storm is past.
Speaking of the storm, it seems to come and go quickly, leaving at least half of the book after it... and me wondering how on earth the author's going to fill the rest of the pages. Thing is, it's not a catastrophe/survival story-- not really. There are a few elements of that, but it's much more a tale of coming-of-age. It's from a male perspective, which could have been interesting, since most (all?) of the coming-of-age books I remember reading have been about girls. But... meh. I just didn't love it. (I'll go into more detail about why, below.)
...Anyway, I think this book is pretty different from the author's other works-- certainly from the ones I've read. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to someone who's read Wool, for instance, and is looking for more of the same. If, however, you like coming-of-age stories-- or you want a fairly realistic portrayal of a hurricane-- it's a pretty quick read. And based on the ratings around the Internet, most people liked the book better than I did.
More Specific Reactions:
-- The book got off to a bad start, in my opinion. I mean, gross. I've heard what teenage boys (in particular) are like, and yes, I remember being a teen myself, but there's really no need to include a touching scene of a boy failing to flirt with a stranger via webcam and then "making do" with youtube and some tissues. Yuck. Is it realistic? Maybe, but that doesn't mean I want to read about it. The Wool series managed to never feel crude, so I was disappointed.
-- Nit-picking, but... Why were there members of the band in uniform, with instruments out by the buses, on the first day of school? It felt like the author was just trying desperately to get the "high school" atmosphere. When I was in Band, we only wore our uniforms for football games, parades, and competitions. You tried them on early in the year, when they were handed out, to make sure they fit, but you certainly didn't go wandering around the school in them for no reason. Second, sax players wouldn't likely be walking around the bus area with their saxophones out. Unless they were staying after school for practice and headed to the practice field, their instruments would be safely stowed away in cases.
-- Hit me (repeatedly) over the head with the "EVERYONE'S OBSESSED WITH THEIR DIGITAL GADGETS AND TECHNOLOGY IS ISOLATING US FROM ONE ANOTHER" theme, why don'tcha?! ;o) But seriously. YES, WE GET YOUR POINT. The obviousness-- it's painful!
-- In some ways, this feels like it might've been aimed more at a YA audience. In other ways-- Wow, crude humor and unnecessarily foul language.
-- I'm obviously a terrible prude, but I found it hard to like Daniel, sometimes. Well, when your first introduction to a character is as grody as it was in this book, it kind of puts you off him right away... Then he seems to have a split personality. At times, he can be a nice, normal, sympathetic kid. Then he talks to his best friend (or in his head) and you think, "Yuck. You know what? Sorry, but I just don't really like you."
-- "She wasn't gorgeous, not like a model, she was too short for that. But when he pictured a girl dating his friend Roby, he imagined someone overweight with bad skin and thick glasses." Ugh. Really? So a girl wearing glasses is gross, I guess. Nice to know. And if she's chubby or has a few pimples-- that's obviously a deal-breaker. Oh, and if you're not "model-tall", you can't possibly qualify as "gorgeous". Jerk.
-- What is this "rando" crap? Is that really a word in use, these days? This was the first I'd heard of it.
-- These teenagers are addicted to cursing. Sure, I'll admit to cursing every now and then, but somehow, reading it seems worse... It's so casual! Casual f-bombs. ...I don't like it! It makes me think less of a character and his/her creator.
-- The party. Are many high school parties really like this? It seems to be what you always get in TV and film portrayals of teen parties, but is it at all realistic? I never went to any big teen parties as a high schooler, so I have no idea. If this is based at all in reality, I consider myself most fortunate to have avoided the misery! I didn't drink in high school-- and I still don't, as a matter of fact. Somehow, I'm perfectly fine with that. (Prudy prudy prude. Nyah! ;oP)
-- Well... One interesting point. When I was in high school, we didn't have cell phones-- certainly not phones with the ability to take photos or video. ...And when I think about the kinds of things that could have been captured for posterity if we had... Yeah, I'm very glad we didn't! Cameras everywhere, at all times, in the hands of bullies and b*****s? Um, no thanks. School was tough enough without that!
-- The author seems to know something about hurricanes, which isn't surprising, since (if I recall correctly) he lives in Florida. However he did have characters doing a few dumb things. I suppose you could argue that it's realistic and that he knows better, but it makes you wonder... The biggie to me was having them crack the windows to "equalize pressure" between indoors and out. Nope, these days "they" say that it's useless, and it may do more harm than good. Certainly it lets in wind and rain, which is bad enough! He also had them using candles. Now, I'll admit that we do that, too, in places, but you're not really supposed to use anything with an open flame. It's a fire hazard, and if you have gas (as these characters do), there's the risk of a gas leak. Later, they use a camp stove indoors. Apparently it can be done without too much danger, but it seems unnecessary. Just take it outside to be on the safe side.
-- "Unlike before, however, when the small trees had been moving, Daniel could now see the big ones swaying. The little ones were snapped in half." Mmm... Well, maybe. It happens, and it depends on what he thinks are "big" and "little" trees, but in my experience, the smaller trees have a better survival rate than the big ones. For one thing, they're not tall enough to catch some of the worst wind (which is higher up, away from wind-breaking terrain and objects). For another, they're usually more pliable than large trees, so they'll just bend where a more rigid trunk will break-- or catch the wind and flop over, roots and all.
-- "Daniel dug in his bag for his Zune. It was yet another humiliation in his life. ... He didn't even like pulling it out in public and had bought some white earbuds so it would look like an iPod if he kept it in his pocket." Gosh, that's obnoxious. Daniel needs to learn not to care so much about conforming to the norm.
-- Zola thinks it's "gross" when her step-dad asks to use one of Daniel's earbuds so he can also hear the radio. ...Um, ok... Get over it, princess.
-- "Daniel noticed, in the sad and quiet exhaustion on his mother's face, how worn out she was." Thanks to Ivan, I know that look-- and I know the feeling. Looking out at the destruction the morning after, you're so exhausted, and it seems so unreal. You're just numb... And then it slowly becomes real and-- ugh!-- there's so much work to do, just to get things back to some semblance of how they were. It's not easy. And we didn't even have real damage to the house!
-- "Zooming out, he had a sudden and terrific shift in perspective that made his mind reel. Daniel thought about all the millions of Americans going about their days in other states, glancing perhaps at the weather, asking friends what that storm was named again, marveling at the size and shape of the thing on their functioning and powered TVs... and Daniel was in the middle of it all. He was terrified for his life in the middle of someone else's idle curiosity." Yes, that's an odd sensation, isn't it? We've all had it, I'm sure-- and on a more personal level, too, when we're going through something difficult-- illness or grief-- and we realize (resentfully? in surprise?) that to most other people, this is just an ordinary day-- or maybe even one of the best they've ever had.
-- I'm surprised Daniel is so excited over the taste of a tomato, even if it is homegrown and fresh from the garden. He doesn't strike me as a veggie-lover. But maybe I'm biased. While I can tolerate raw tomato on a sandwich or eaten a bit at a time with other, better-flavored food, I much prefer them cooked. Homegrown or not.
-- Some other readers complained that the kids didn't talk like kids. I didn't notice that issue much, to be honest. (I was much more bothered by the heavy cursing when they were talking amongst themselves.) However, it does sound a bit odd when Daniel introduces Anna and Edward to his brother and adds, "They were kind enough to bring us over." How many 17-year-old guys would say that?
-- Anna says, "I was always sort of this tomgirl." Um... Shouldn't that be "tomboy"?
-- I just skipped over the chapter about moving the tree off the roof. Not interesting to me.
-- "This girl's a category five, to be sure. Insanely smart. Pretty in a normal kind of way, not like cheerleader pretty or tall or exotic--" Gah. I know he's trying to be complimentary, but... It just rubs me the wrong way. Why do you even need to qualify "how" she is pretty? Why?? It. is. annoying.
-- That's all. I'm happy to have this one done. I was bored about half-way through, but decided to finish it, since it was so short. Problem is, even a short book feels like a slow slog when you're not enjoying it.