They called it the Sickness, a plague like the world had never seen, and in the ruins of New York City, the teenagers who survived are on their own. No one knows why it only killed the young children and the adults, but they do know that they only have a few years at best before their own adulthood delivers them the same fate.
The kids in Washington Square are relatively safe, having fortified their perimeter and banded together as a community that does its best to sustain itself. There, Jefferson and his lifelong friend Donna scavenge for food, work with the others to cultivate a paltry garden, and try to adjust to a world they were never prepared to inhabit. But when one of their friends mentions a possible source of the Sickness, they grasp onto that hope and set off on a perilous mission across the city’s many battlefields, desperate to find the cure and save what little is left of the world.
Judging Covers: Oddly, it’s the cover that caught me. And I say oddly because at first glance, it doesn’t seem to show much. But something about the font is intriguing, and then the title sinks in, and you realize there more to it. And then you see the armed figures with their tattered flag against a smoky sky, and you realize there’s a lot more to it. At least I did. And I just had to find out what that more was about.
The Verdict: Chris Weitz has created a fascinating, frightening, absolutely believable new world that reveals The End through the eyes of once idealistic, now desperate teenagers. It’s a must-read, must-share, must devour book for nearly all ages.
As with many dystopian novels, the apocalypse in The Young World came in plague form, quickly wiping out the majority of humankind and leaving the few survivors to scavenge the bowels of once great cities for the basics they’d always taken for granted. But the sickness in The Young World is like a reverse version of the 1918 pandemic, and instead of decimating the relatively young and healthy, it claimed small children and adults. Since its initial assault on the population, it continues to thrive, cropping up in survivors once they’ve reached physical maturity and leaving what remains of civilization to a dwindling society of teenagers rendered incapable of propagating the human race and ill-equipped to reestablish order and community.
They dwell in tribe-like groups, some luckier than others to have a few rather capable individuals within their circle. After all, teens in New York City aren’t schooled in gardening and hunting and general wilderness survival, and they’re certainly not cut out for a world without technology and adult guidance. But they do the best they can — or the worst they can in some cases — and though it may not be paradise, some groups are proving to be rather resourceful.
The detail in the book is astounding, and told through the jaded voices of Jeff and Donna, it’s eerily real, which makes even the calm moments terribly frightening. They live among constant reminders of a civilization that thrived on excess, and they are surrounded by one-time necessities that are now useless — like an unending supply of iPhone cases when what they need is food and batteries and some way of protecting themselves. While pop culture references in books usually annoy me, in The Young World, it was those very references that drove the point home. They remember songs and celebrities and fashion and movies, even though all those things are now lost. It’s all so surreal, seeing the devastation and innate will to survive in teenagers who should be worrying about whether their parents will let them borrow the car or what they’ll wear to a party. And every time they think of those shallow times, it just makes the whole thing that much more surreal. I suppose I should tell you about Jeff and Donna, but as much as I absolutely love them, there’s a bigger character I can’t get out of my head — the ruined civilization they’re left to. The landmarks and landscape of New York are perfectly utilized, from the subways to the library to the zoo, and for once I feel like I’ve seen exactly what the world will be when it all comes to an end.
The fall of society and civilization has, of course, exposed people’s true selves. Some are practically lost in their own minds, some hide away in fear of those with superior strength or numbers or weapons, some help each other as best they can, and some embrace violence and power. The landscape and obstacles, the city’s remains and its survivors’ actions, the danger and complete loss of security and (in some ways) hope… it’s all painted so perfectly in Chris Weitz’s words that I had to remind myself that I would be one of the lucky ones in his scenario, dead within hours with the rest of the adults. Because clearly the human apocalypse will happen exactly as he’s described it. And even though the story shies away from overly graphic violence, it scared the hell out of me. Simple as that.
While I probably wouldn’t recommend the book to your average thirteen year old, just because it’s the kind of mind-scare I’d rather they didn’t imagine, I would certainly recommend it to everyone over the age of fifteen. Hell, I was recommending it to my father at dinner the other night, and he’s over sixty. Apparently my gushing about it, even when I was only thirty percent finished was enough for him to ask whether I thought they’d make a movie. Obviously I can’t even begin to guess something like that, but given who the author is, and given just how incredibly well written and developed the story is, I certainly hope so. I’d stand in those ridiculous lines with all those silly teens and cram into the midnight showing, just to see this fascinating and creative story, these brilliantly threaded words and scenes play out in front of me. I can’t imagine a young adult story more suited to both book and screen, and I know The Young World Trilogy will be one of those odd sets of modern fiction that finds itself in hardback form among my forever classics so I can read it over and over again.