In the year 2017, a government-manufactured virus accidentally leaks into the wider population, and the world is brought to its knees. Claiming almost the entirety of Earth’s population, it seems the only ones spared from the epidemic are children. As Andy Christensen and her friends travel from Bermuda back to their homes in North America, they find the new Wild West that has emerged in the destructive wake of the virus, and must venture with newfound friends to find a new home in Schism by Britt Holewenski.
As an initial conceit, the concept isn’t entirely realistic or original, borrowing ideas and themes from both Lord of the Flies and viral apocalypse dramas like 28 Days Later. The idea of a top-secret government virus accidentally destroying the global population of explicitly anyone older than thirteen is fairly unbelievable, though forgivable simply for what this set-up leads into.
The final piece is actually something that stands out from its influences and has something striking to say about the nature of humanity through teenage eyes. The changes almost parallel that shift from childhood to adulthood that a typical 13-year-old has to face, though far more literal in the viral apocalypse than in the usual bildungsroman of real-world adolescence. It tells a story far more relatable and more modern than its predecessors, and really draws out the essence of its influences without diminishing its own unique nature. The drama is heart-wrenching, nail-biting stuff at times, and it’s not hard to find yourself immersed in the story for every difficult moment, simultaneously evoking your own childhood experiences as well something far more dire in the story itself.
Apart from the clear influences on the piece, there’s very little to pick at with the book. It’s a smooth read from start to finish and certainly gets its hooks in you by the end even though it might take readers a little time to warm up on the story and for the world and characters to start to shine through expectations. Teenagers are particularly difficult to write for their wide spectrum of maturities and attitudes and, while the protagonists can be a little tiring at times, they carry something real about them that feels just right.
Aesthetically, the presentation is fairly spot-on all around, along with with clear editing and a beautiful cover to boot. It’s a really good-looking product with a great feel to the read once you get into it after the gradual build, which is about the only real problem to note with the book apart from the potentially (though unlikely) upsetting content.
Holewinski is something of a dystopian connoisseur, with personal experience of US military and a long, touted readership of the classics to discuss on her website. That experience has culminated in her first fully-fleshed out novel in Schism, and the long time leading up to the book’s release has been well-spent. Here’s hoping that that same magic can be cast on the upcoming sequel.
Content warning for violence, especially involving children.