My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Going into this book, I had a vague idea of what it was going to be about. in a way, I was not at all prepared for what actually happened.
I really enjoyed this story. It was refreshing to read something in which I genuinely could not tell what would happen or if things would even end well or not. I enjoyed the speculation as to the “why” of everything the entire way through as well. I don’t think I had any real clue about what was happening but in a good way. Nothing felt simply handed to me, nor was there any amount of explaining that took me out of the story.
I liked the characters a lot too. The core group of characters was interesting and distinct. Even the supporting characters that are introduced, however briefly they appear, feel relevant and have a point.
This book blew me away. I knew when I started it there would be some sort of horror aspect involving a plague or disease of some nature. I tried very hard to avoid too much detail before I started. What I got was much more than I expected.
Jumping into this story nearly two years after everything started was fantastic. I really liked being dropped into a world where the horror and tragedy of what the girls are face just seems normal and common place to them. Grotesque moments, like having your nose smashed fighting your best friends for food, or disfigured eye lids being sewn shut with common needle and thread from someones pocket, are treated so lightly that it’s more horrifying than if they had been explain as a spectacle.
Additionally, once get familiar with life for the girls on the island, we are pretty much on the same page as the rest of the characters. At no point do we know anything more than they do about the world around them. Getting to experience new realizations and confusions along with them feels very satisfying. Even when things start to become more clear and the girls learn about the parasite that was been attempting to survive inside every living thing on the island as well as the governments involvement we don’t get a full explanation about everything because they don’t. At no point is information just provided for us to give us context outside of what seems rational for the characters to know.
We spend most of the time in Hetty’s perspective, just one of several girls trying to survive quarantined On an island where she was attending a private boarding school. Hetty is by far one of the most flawed characters I’ve ever read and I loved it. When her best friend Byatt takes a turn for the worst and disappears she is so single minded in her complete need to have her back that she risks everyone else on the island just to find answers. Realistically she is responsible for nearly every terrible thing that happens in their lives from the time we enter the story. She is a classic case of being unwilling to sacrifice one for the good of many. Her inadvertent hand in the collapse of the structure they have accomplished and the deaths of pretty much everyone bot her best friends is so hard to read, especially when she herself starts to acknowledge the truth of it.
We have a few chapters where we get to see things from Byatt’s perspective as well after she was disappeared from the school. I love that these further confuse the story in terms of what we thing is happening while also shedding new light on things. Even she is a catalyst for the islands downfall, though just from a slightly different angle. While we don’t get to see the story from her perspective, Reese is also very interesting to me. She’s incredibly stoic and closed off through the story and as we learn, she was before the Tox starting taking over the island. Reese doesn’t have the same fierce loyalty that Hetty does, until we learn of the mutual feelings Hetty and Reese have for one another that neither of them had thought could be acted upon until everything started going wrong. She was so hard to read as a character, even after she explains to Hetty that she did things she didn’t particularly want to simply because Hetty wanted it.
I absolutely loved that even though we learn that the Tox is really a parasite that has been slowly investing everything on the island, and the government has been aware of the situation, we don’t actually get a full, set in stone explanation about things. There is no real way for the girls to get all of the answers, so we don’t either. The ending was shocking and an emotional roller coaster that glides between a happy and not-so-happy ending. There is a slightly open ended quality to it as well that I found myself theorizing about the next steps and trying to decide how I thought the next few hours in their lives would go.
Overall, a great read that had my emotions going in many different directions at once and had me on edge the whole way through.