The Boy at the End of the World is middle grade science fiction with a compelling premise. Fisher is born in a pod filled with bubbling gel, a plastic umbilical cord attached to his belly, and an array of knowledge pre-implanted in his brain. All of the pods around him, a high-tech Ark left by a crumbling society, have been destroyed. A mildly damaged robot named Click informs Fisher that he is the only human being left on earth. Click's job is to help Fisher (and thus humanity) survive. This is no small task in a world in which predators, animal and machine, have had thousands of years to evolve without human interference. Nevertheless, Fisher, with Click beside him, sets off on a dangerous journey to try to find other humans.
Greg van Eekhout's world-building is excellent. The America that Fisher inhabits is littered with the detritus of the lost human society, but time has wrought so much change that only a few recognizable artifacts and locations remain. The flora and fauna are dramatically changed, with oversized parrots swooping down to attack, and whales and piranha/crocodile hybrids trolling the Mississippi River. A young mammoth, genetically engineered prior to the collapse of civilization, joins Fisher and Click's odd family. And mutated weapons, which Fisher and Click call "gadgets", scour the skies.
Fisher is a strong character, chafing at his limitations, but instinctively loyal to his friends, determined to survive. Click is a mix of pre-programmed, canned knowledge and directives, but he lends occasional dry humor. Like this:
"Our purpose is uncertain. As I said, I am a custodial unit. I was not designed for the tasks I must perform now to maintain your survival. Also, a rock fell on my head and a rat tried to eat my face, so it is possible that I am not seeing all the available options." (Page 22)
The author's message of environmentalism is a tiny bit heavy-handed at times, with Click dropping tidbits like:
"Animals evolve over time, and land changes over time. But do not underestimate the impact of human activity. Sea levels must have risen due to the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps. Destructive farming practices may have eroded the soil away." (Page 104)
But The Boy at the End of the World has enough action, and Fisher has enough heart, that the message does not overwhelm the story. The Boy at the End of the World reminded me a bit of John Christopher's books, with an old school, science fiction feel, though there are also modern touches, like nanobots.
One minor point that I liked is that Click tells Fisher: "Your skin is darkly pigmented to give you some protection from sun exposure." I like the notion that the last vestiges of humanity would want to give their human ark inhabitants the advantage of dark skin. It also cracked me up that Fisher's first words, as he races from his collapsing place of birth, are profanities. I like the irreverence of it.
There is also, alas, the obligatory discovery by Fisher of the vestiges of a McDonalds sign. These seem to make their way into many post-apocalypse tales - some sort of standard symbol of our collapsed society.
Here are two final quotes, to give you a feel for van Eekhout's writing:
"Soon, he was eating cooked crayfish. It was just a small nugget of meat, but it was rich and fatty and sweet and full of protein, and it tasted like success." (Page 30)
"They started out when the sun broke and the wet earth breathed steam, and they kept walking, for hours, and days, and weeks." (Page 60)
The Boy at the End of the World is a quick, appealing read. It has an irresistible premise, a fully featured setting, a handful of strong characters, and an action-packed plot. I recommended it for middle grade and middle school readers, boys and girls. It's a book that I would have read and re-read as a 10-year-old, and that I enjoyed today. It would make a great movie, too. The Boy at the End of the World is a keeper.
Publisher: Bloomsbury (@BWKids)
Publication Date: June 21, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.