i totally misjudged the tone of this book before reading it. the cover and “mad max with cannibals” angle fooled me into thinking this would be a fun horror novel to read for spooktober but, while it was indeed fun, it isn’t horror. it’s a pure picaresque drawn in very broad strokes—stock characters, typical post-apoc wasteland setting, survivors of the fittest with adaptive moral compasses, and more functional weapons and bullets than should exist so long after the end of manufacturing—you know the type. but even though there’s a lot here that’s familiar to even a tourist to the genre, it’s still a lot of fun.
it’s like True Grit plus the mark twain coming-of-age novel of your choice with a lot more cannibalism, as a sixteen-year-old girl known as “kid” is picked up in the middle of the desert by a ragtag bunch of “sharks” toting garbage bags full of rancid meat of dubious origin in their jeep and joins this surrogate family with a casual shrug, embarking on a series of adventures that will involve death, near-death, and being left for dead, guns, explosives, an endless parade of adversaries, plots, betrayals, and well-roasted meat.
it’s a world characterized by the toughest of love. kid remembers the lessons of her long-departed father:
Trust no one. Eat anything edible, even if it’s gross. And always bring enough water to get there and back again.
and learns new lessons from wolf, her adoptive father figure, who teaches her how to swim, in his own way, when they are pursued to the very edge of a cliff by their enemies:
“Learn,” he says, “or die.”
He pushes me over the edge.
again, this isn’t a horror novel. despite the brutal situations, it’s barely even dark. kid reads much much younger than sixteen, and she’s remarkably unhardened by the events of her life. told through her perspective, the book has an almost dickensian feel, and she’s this plucky guttersnipe urchin slipping through dangers unscathed*, wide-eyed with an unquenchably positive outlook and all the blithe self-sacrificing tendencies of one of the more annoying superheroes.
it’s weird how much fun this is. the characters are central casting stereotypes, and the layer of whimsy brought to the table by kid’s reese witherspoon-esque attitude is so situationally dissonant, but something about it is undeniably appealing in the most cartoony way.
”All right,” Wolf repeats. He looks more disheveled than usual. He’s covered in blood, dripping from his dreadlocks and down the front of his shirt. It’s hard to tell how much of it is his own. He pushes up his goggles and glares at us. “All right. You know what? I am sick of this. I am sick of being pushed around and tied up and all of that shit! Come on, people, we’re supposed to be the bad guys! What the fuck is going on here?”
something about it just hooks you and drags you along on its rollicking carnival ride and it’s more fun and warmhearted than any book with this much casual killing ought to be. not scary enough for spooktober, but not a flop at all.
* well, more or less