I am a long-time fan of post-apocalyptic survival stories. I particularly enjoy those that are straight-up survival stories, with no zombies, magic, etc. And I'm happy to say that Amber Kizer's upcoming A Matter of Days delivers. It has the attributes that I love most about Stephen King's The Stand (which I re-read every few years), without all the weird stuff. I was not surprised to learn, in an end note, that The Stand was a formative book for Kizer. The homage is there, in a way that's not derivative.
A Matter of Days is narrated by 16-year-old Nadia. Nadia's mother dies on day 56 of a virulent global pandemic. Nadia then sets out from Seattle with her 11-year-old brother, Rabbit, to find their uncle and grandfather in West Virginia. (I couldn't help but be reminded by Rabbit's name of one of the very first post-apocalypse stories that I read, H.M. Hoover's The Children of Morrow, though that's a very different book.) A Matter of Days recounts Nadia and Rabbit's journey, as they struggle to find necessary supplies, and encounter dangerous people along the way.
I read A Matter of Days in less than a day. I couldn't put it down. I felt constant tension, wondering what would happen to Nadia and Rabbit. A Matter of Days has some wish fulfillment details of what it would be like to be kids more or less alone in the world (cooking food in an abandoned hotel, visiting an empty mall, another teen who takes over a small town for himself). But there are also lots of details regarding survival. These are set against the near-constant worry about whether people the kids encounter will be good or evil.
Kizer does a fine job of refraining from moralizing about what led to the end of the world (something that I find a common flaw in post-apocalyptic novels, particularly those of the environmental collapse variety). She just focuses on telling the story. Flashbacks throughout the book fill in the details of how Nadia and Rabbit survived the pandemic, and why their mother didn't. I found these details plausible, which added to my appreciation for this book. There is a reason that these particular kids survived - nothing magical about it.
A Matter of Days reminds me a bit of Mike Mullin's Ashfall, but it's a bit less grim, particularly in the treatment of women. It's about a global pandemic that kills nearly everyone, so there are the obligatory bad smells and bodies encountered everywhere you go. But Kizer doesn't wallow in those details - she gives the kids a mother who was a nurse, and explained basic processes to them, and she allows enough time to have elapsed for the worst to be over. I think that A Matter of Days strikes the right balance in this regard. Like this:
"When I was little, I used to leave my Strawberry Shortcake dolls in the car in the sun with the windows rolled up. I didn't do it on purpose, but I took those dolls everywhere. Mom threw up once because the sweet chemical perfume of fake fruit in the hot car was overpowering. I'll take fake fruit, Mattel style, over decomposing human any day.
The blast of putrid air doubled me over and I puked into the wilted potted pansies. No one was alive in there. No way.
I shut the front door and jogged back to the vehicle. Sweat dripped down my forehead as my stomach continued to spasm. Rabbit handed me an open bottle of water to swish out my mouth.
We didn't speak. There weren't words."
Kizer's writing is tight, suspenseful without being overly melodramatic. Nadia's relationship with her brother is realistically distant at first - the reader gets to know these siblings as they are getting to know each other. There's no sappiness between them.
For me, A Matter of Days is as good as it gets for post-apocalypse survival stories. Realistic and suspenseful, with characters that the reader wants to see succeed. And although I loved it, I'm still happy to report that A Matter of Days appears to be a standalone novel, a rare thing these days. A Matter of Days has my highest recommendation. Fans of the genre will not want to miss it.
Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher
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