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Epitaph Road: David Patneaude

Book: Epitaph Road
Author: David Patneaude
Pages: 272
Age Range: 12 and up

Epitaph As readers may recall, I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic dystopian novels for young adults. So I was, naturally enough, unable to resist reading David Patneaude's latest novel, Epitaph Road. Epitaph Road takes place in and around Seattle in 2097, 30 years after a virus called Elisha's Bear killed 97% of the male population of the world. In the aftermath of the epidemic, women took charge. Without men, wars came to a halt, crime tapered off, and prisons emptied. The women in power promptly instituted procedures to ensure that the percentage of men remained at bout 3%, so that civilization would remain more civil. Men are treated as second-class citizens, their actions highly regulated.

The narrator, fourteen-year-old Kellen, is one of the few boys his age in town. He lives in a boardinghouse owned by his mother, a prominent figure on the Population Apportionment Council (PAC). Kellen longs to spend more time with his father, who lives alone near a remote settlement of men. When Kellen learns that a new outbreak of Elisha's Bear might be headed his father's way, he sets out with two friends on a dangerous journey to warn his father.

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you more of a feel for the setup of the book:

"Could anyone in his right mind have made a case for going back to a world of poverty and hunger and crime and disease and greed and dishonesty and prejudice and war and genocide and religious bigotry and runaway population growth and abuse of the environment and immigration strife and you-get-the-leftovers educational policies and a hundred other horrors?
Not me. But a little less regimentation would have been good."(Page 26)

"It was a big structure, converted from an old police station and jail. Since Elisha's arrival, governments had been able to shut down most station houses and lockups, converting them to libraries, schools, residences, office buildings, and storage." (Page 62) 

I found the premise of this book intriguing. I mean, there's no denying that men dominate the prison system. It's plausible that a female-led world would exhibit less violence, isn't it? Reading this book, I enjoyed thinking about things like: How would it work, keeping men to 3% of the population? What about relationships?  Wouldn't people fight over the men who where there? How would you justify the restrictions once things stabilized? etc.

I would have liked to see some of these issues addressed more directly in Epitaph Road. But in truth, this premise is something of a backdrop to Epitaph Road. The book reads like a boy's adventure in the woods rather than a weighty dystopia. And that's ok. It's a fun ride. Despite the grimness of the idea of 3 billion men dying (and short epitaphs included at the start of each chapter to highlight this), Epitaph Road doesn't feel grim. We get passages like these:

"Tia sat down on a low canvas chair. I could barely see her face, but I noticed a glistening layer of perspiration on her forehead, a remnant of her long bike ride. My fingers itched to test the warmth of her skin. But all I managed to do was pull over another chair and sit next to her." (Page 88)

"We hid our bikes and backpacks and proceeded on foot. I led the way into the underbrush, taking a shortcut to what I hoped was a safe vantage point. My eyes were used to the dark by now, but it was still hard to see and tough to keep from stepping on dry twigs, tripping over downed branches and stubborn shrubs, and making noise." (Page 117)

Epitaph Road has more in common with an old-fashioned adventure story than with a dark dystopia like The Knife of Never Letting Go (a book by Patrick Ness set in a town with no women). It would be a good introduction to the genre for middle schoolers. I enjoyed it.  

Publisher: Egmont
Publication Date: March 23, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).