Author: Virginia Bergin
Age Range: 12 and up
Virginia Bergin's H2O is a young adult novel about an apocalypse that occurs when rain turns deadly, leaving only 0.27% of the population alive. I have mixed feelings about this book. I found the first-person narrator, Ruby, off-putting, and her chatty narrative style (with many diversions) annoying. And yet ... I couldn't put the book down, and consumed it in record time.
The plot of H2O carries echoes of various other apocalyptic survival stories (the loss of the immediate family, the quest to find a lost relative, the teaming up with someone who one would never have teamed up with before, the presence of authority figures of questionable intent, the shopping in empty stores and scrabbling for food, etc.). There's a reason these elements are found in so many apocalyptic stories - they are compelling, and keep readers turning the pages.
But I think that what hooked me with H2O was the sheer menace of the premise. Imagine if a single drop of rain could kill you. Imagine that the tap water, not to mention lakes and swimming pools, is corrupted. You would learn, as Ruby does, to be an expert at watching cloud formations. But eventually, someone, somewhere would have to figure out a longer term solution. Wouldn't they? There's only so much bottled water out there, after all... So, H2O made me think, and Ruby's near constant peril kept me turning the (virtual) pages.
Here are a couple of sample quotes, to give you a feel for Ruby's voice:
"I was sitting in a hot tub in my underwear kissing Caspar McCloud. Ha! That also sounds like a great beginning, maybe from some kind of kiss-fest romance, or maybe Caspar would turn out to be a sexy vampire." (Chapter One)
"All those people's lives--on the coffee table, in one long, neat row. People (like Simon) go on about people (like me) and not being able to be apart from their cell phones. They're missing the point; it's not the cell phone--it's the life that's in it you don't want to be apart from...even when they don't work anymore." (Chapter Twelve)
""Bye!" I shouted, which I thought was very charitable of me, considering. Charitable and also a further sign of how serious the situation was: girls like me don't even acknowledge the existence of boys like Darius Spratt. It's a basic law of nature." (Chapter Fourteen)
That last quote gives you a bit of insight into Ruby's character. She's run into a boy from school who is a bit of a nerd, and she just can't let go of their social differences. In the middle of an apocalypse. She's vain (constantly looking for makeup and cool clothes, in the middle of her travels) and selfish. Now, the target audience of actual teen readers might be able to relate to Ruby better than I did, of course. And she does try to do the right thing here and there, and improves over time. But overall, Ruby's voice didn't work well for me.
And yet, on another level, it did work for me. I could picture, and practically smell, Ruby's surroundings. She does not shrink from talking about things, even disgusting or embarrassing things. She reveals her flaws and her insecurities. She is loud and out there and alive. I was impatient with her digressions because I wanted her to get on with the story. I wanted to know what would happen next. I was invested.
So, if you like apocalyptic survival stories - ones that tell you exactly what someone was going through during and immediately after the disaster, H2O is one to check out. It has many of what have become conventions of the genre, and the narrator is (in what may be a refreshing change for some), not particularly heroic. But the premise is compelling and downright creepy. I don't think I'll ever look at rainclouds the same way again.
PS: Tanita Davis has a much more comprehensive review than mine at Finding Wonderland.
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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