In an unspecified time in the future, wars have nearly destroyed civilization. A superflu virus has wiped out most of the population, and the United States is in ruins. Twenty years later, those who are left must either create something new, or find a way to survive in this devastated and dangerous landscape. Fifteen-year-old Stephen travels with his father and his tough ex-marine grandfather. They are scavengers, living by whatever supplies they can find, and they avoid other travellers. When Stephen's grandfather dies, and his father is gravely injured, he is left on his own for the first time.
A chance encounter leads Stephen to a community called Settler's Landing- a seeming Utopia where they live off the land, the kids go to school, and patriotism still means something. Distrustful of people by nature, Stephen quickly falls in with the town outcast Jenny Tan. As the two grow closer, he learns some unsettling facts about this perfect community, and what results is a conflict that will change everybody's lives forever.
There are a lot of things to like about this book, but also some things that I disliked about it that keep me from rating it as highly as I would have liked to. The story is believable and chillingly realistic. Since 9/11, the possibility of chemical or viral warfare has become an ever-growing concern, and I have no difficulties picturing it. It reminds me a great deal of Ilsa J. Bick's summer release Ashes, but with a male character.
Which brings me to the next point that I liked, which is that the protagonist is a teenage boy. So many of the books in this genre feature female characters that it's refreshing to find one that will have appeal to teen boys who are fans of the genre.
The book is fast-paced and exciting, and teens will race to the end to see where it goes. There is a hint of romance, but that aspect of the story is minor. Jenny has her own reasons for being jaded, and Stephen's distrustful nature draws him to her. I think he eventually would have figured things out for himself, but Jenny really is the accelerant that exposes the flaws of the community in more rapid fashion. When the conflict between Settler's Landing and a neighbouring community reaches a head, it's no surprise that the result is war, and the author does a good job of making a point about how seemingly harmless acts can have devastating consequences.
The thing I really didn't like about the book was that it felt like it lacked the emotional depth that other books in the genre have. I admire the fact that it's a stand-alone, and that it has a comparatively short page count, but the book suffers for it. There was not enough character development for me, and I just didn't feel satisfied at the end of it. There is a very definite formula that dystopian and post-apocalyptic books follow, and the author has followed it to the letter. There is no real original ground covered here, and if you're looking for a unique spin, you won't find it here.
Despite its flaws, the short length and straightforward storyline makes this a perfect read for reluctant readers, and it's a tame enough read that you can safely hand it to an eleven or twelve-year-old reader without having to worry about sex, language and gratuitous violence.