I’ve been in the mood for some bleak survival/end of the world as we know it reads, and I spied both of these books patiently waiting for their turn to be read on my admittedly overflowing TBR. I’ve been meaning to try S.A. Bodeen for a while, and finally decided that it was time.
Author: S.A. Bodeen
Genre: Adventure/Survival, Young Adult
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: August 2012
Hardcover: 231 pages
Robie is an experienced traveler. She’s taken the flight from Honolulu to the Midway Atoll, a group of Pacific islands where her parents live, many times. When she has to get to Midway in a hurry after a visit with her aunt in Hawaii, she gets on the next cargo flight at the last minute. She knows the pilot, but on this flight, there’s a new co-pilot named Max. All systems are go until a storm hits during the flight. The only passenger, Robie doesn’t panic until the engine suddenly cuts out and Max shouts at her to put on a life jacket. They are over miles of Pacific Ocean. She sees Max struggle with a raft.
And then . . . she’s in the water. Fighting for her life. Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of Skittles. There are sharks. There is an island. But there’s no sign of help on the way.
Stand alone or series: Standalone novel
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Fifteen-year-old Robie has always been told that she is lucky – she’s lucky that she gets to live on the Midway Atoll with her National Geographic photographer and scientist parents, lucky she does not have to go to regular school or do regular homework, lucky that she gets the experience of growing up in a beautiful, idyllic secluded tropical island locale. But Robie hasn’t really felt lucky – she sees life on Midway as a great experience, but she’s over a thousand miles away from the closest stretch of civilization, she has barely any interaction with other kids her age, and the tiny atoll has just 4 TV channels, as well as a notoriously spotty phone and internet connection. So, when Robie gets the chance to spend the summer with her cool young Aunt AJ in Honolulu, she’s thrilled to spend time lounging by the pool, catching up on all the tv shows she’s missed, and getting her nose pierced without her parents around. When her aunt has to leave town for a week, Robie even manages to convince her to stay unattended in AJ’s condo. But Robie finds that being on her own isn’t all its cracked up to be, and after a frightening encounter with a vagrant she makes the decision to head home to Midway on the first plane out – the weekly supply run.
Thanks to another phone outage, Robie can’t reach her parents to let them know she’s heading home, and she decides not to call and freak out her aunt. She’s made the flight to Midway from Honolulu countless times before, after all, so it’s no big deal.
But then a surprise storm hits mid-flight, and everything goes wrong. The engine dies. The plane plummets. And even though she manages to miraculously survive the crash and get in an emergency life raft, she’s alone in the middle of the ocean with the gravely injured co-pilot, with no food and no water. And no one even knows she’s gone.
The Raft is a harrowing, tautly written novel that takes great pains to detail the realistic psychological and physical trauma that a fifteen year old girl might endure in a mid-Pacific plane crash. I’m both attracted to and repelled by these types of stories – shows like I Shouldn’t Be Alive, films like 127 Hours, or books like Into Thin Air. They frighten me, but I cannot resist these heart-rending tales, the chance decisions and confluences of events that make the difference between life and death. In The Raft, S.A. Bodeen takes an ordinary teenage girl, places her in an extraordinary situation, and details her excruciating tale – its triumphs and missteps, and the lengths to which Robie will go to keep herself sane and alive. And for all of this, Bodeen’s novel does a phenomenal job. Be clear – this is no incisive tome about civilization, or environmentalism, or even human nature. It is an utterly unprepared young girl’s tale of survival. And I’m good with that.
Because this is such an insular story, The Raft relies on two things: the (somewhat sadistic) plot, and the strength of heroine Robie’s narrative. From a character perspective, Robie is realistically portrayed as a fifteen year old girl that is more concerned with her freedom and wants than she is with others. She’s no survival expert (though she knows a bit more about biology than the average person thanks to her unique upbringing), and she makes so many mistakes with only her instincts, memories, and imagination to guide her survival. I love this hefty dose of realism, and that Robie is so fallible – she feels like a real person, flaws and all. She’s resourceful (but not unbelievably so), and her coping mechanism – you’ll get to it, I won’t spoil you – is hauntingly effective.
From a plotting perspective, The Raft also is a competent, well-executed feat. There are moments of terror and action – the plane crash in particular is scary stuff – but there are also many other moments of quiet, excruciatingly slow dread. This balance, between action and inaction, feels very realistic, very true, and I found myself thoroughly appreciating Bodeen’s keen eye for pacing and storytelling.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Raft and absolutely recommend it for anyone looking for this type of survival story – heck, I liked it so much that I immediately picked up S.A. Bodeen’s first novel upon finishing this book.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From Chapter 1:
The dude with the lime-green Mohawk and dark wooden plugs in his earlobes looked down at me, the long silver needle in his rubber-gloved hand pointed directly at my face.
“Wait.” I swallowed and gripped the arms of my chair.
Jutting out one hip, he rolled his eyes. “Do you want your nose pierced or not?”
“Yes, just … can you tell me something worse?” I pointed at the needle. “Something that is worse than that?”
He probably thought my request was insane, but that was how I coped with unpleasant things. Once I found out something worse, then it was easier to deal with. Whether it was a filling at the dentist or an end-of-term physics test, finding out things that were worse helped me deal with new challenges.
Green Mohawk Dude seemed to think about it as he looked around. A blond pregnant woman in tall suede boots and a fuchsia halter dress browsed through the gold hoops. With one gloved finger, he pointed at her. “Childbirth. Fairly certain that hurts worse.”
“I’m fifteen.” My turn to eye roll. “Something a little more relative? Not so obviously inappropriate?” I got ready to leave.
He pointed down at his black flip-flops. “See my big toes?”
My glance went downward and I flinched. His toes were big and callousy with yellowish nails. Easily the ugliest toes I’d ever seen.
Green Mohawk Dude said, “Last year I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Coming down, my toes got smashed into the front of my boots. Ended up losing both my big toenails. Took them eleven months to grow back.”
I asked, “And that hurt worse than getting your nose pierced?”
“Guess so.” He shrugged. “Now, can we do this?”
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Author: S.A. Bodeen
Genre: Apocalypse/Speculative Fiction, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: April 2008
Hardcover: 248 pages
Eli and his family have lived in the underground Compound for six years. The world they knew is gone, and they’ve become accustomed to their new life. Accustomed, but not happy.
For Eli, no amount of luxury can stifle the dull routine of living in the same place, with only his two sisters, his father and mother, doing the same thing day after day after day.
As problems with their carefully planned existence threaten to destroy their sanctuary—and their sanity—Eli can’t help but wonder if he’d rather take his chances outside.
Eli’s father built the Compound to keep them safe. But are they safe—or sorry?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Bought
It has been six years since Eli, his two sisters, and his parents have sealed themselves in the compound. Six years since Eli’s twin brother, Eddy, and his grandmother have perished on the outside of the thick, concrete reinforced doors, victim to the nuclear war sweeping the world. Luckily for Eli, his father – a billionaire and brilliant technological innovator – has spent years preparing for the inevitable nuclear disaster, building an advanced and hidden underground compound stocked with ample food, water, medicines, and anything else imaginable to help his family survive for fifteen years underground – when it will be safe to emerge and begin rebuilding topside.
For six years, Eli has withdrawn deeper into himself, refusing to touch anyone else, pushing away his sisters and parents, resigning himself to his never-changing daily routine. But lately, ever since Eli turned fifteen, something has changed. Eli begins to question his father’s unyielding, absolute control and decisions. And then he discovers a secret that will change everything – Eli knows that his father has been lying, and it is up to him to keep the rest of his family alive.
The Compound, S.A. Bodeen’s first novel is another survival-oriented psychological thriller – this time with a more familiar apocalyptic bend. Chronicling a family’s experience within a contained, increasingly tense environment, The Compound is a claustrophobic read complete with high stakes and dramatic twists (I’m talking really dramatic, even melodramatic twists). These are not quite unexpected – from the very beginning, you know that something is wrong with this family living beneath the ground, that there’s something inherently untrustworthy about Eli’s father and everything the family holds as true.
Unlike The Raft, The Compound relies on a much more overt, plot-heavy story – not to say that characterization suffers, but the focus here is on big twists and payoffs. The plotting is solid, if slightly predictable – the truth of the Supplements, and of the Compound itself are familiar tropes. Still, these elements are well executed and entertaining (in a twisted, frightening kind of way). On the character front, similar to The Raft, I really appreciate Bodeen’s creation of conflicted, un-likable characters. Eli guards his own secrets and guilt, and his sisters Lexie and Terese are also intriguing, complex figures. None of the family particularly like each other, and it makes for a terse, intense environment and cast of characters with severe psychological games and drama. The youngest sister, Terese, for example adopts an affected British accent from her love of Mary Poppins. Lexie is jaded and hard, cruel to her brother Eli – just as cold and abrasive as Eli is to her.
My only complaints with The Compound lie with the caricaturish villany of the father character, and with the almost melodramatic reveals, especially in the novel’s final scenes. These criticisms said, I enjoyed the book highly – but I think The Raft is the more memorable title of the two.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I knew what had happened that night. We had been prepared. Other kids got bedtime stories about fairies and dogs. We fell asleep with visions of Weapons of Mass Destruction dancing in our heads. . .
Dad gripped my shoulders and pulled me away from the silver door, twisting me around to follow the rest of my family. What was left of it. I clung to my father’s hand. He rushed ahead of me, his hand dropping mine.
I lifted my hand to my face. It reeked of fuel.
The corridor ended. We paraded through an archway strung with twinkling white lights, then entered an enormous circular room. The place reminded me of a yurt we’d built in school, but about 80 times bigger. The curved walls were made of log beams; the same type which criss-crossed over our heads in an intricate pattern. The roundness of the room was odd yet comforting . . . Dad flicked a switch.
A plasma television dropped down from the ceiling, blank monitor glowing. “I figured we’d be in here a lot.” The blue from the television tinted Dad’s face and blonde hair in a garish way. He startled me when he threw his arms out to the side. “Cozy, yes? What do you think?”
“It’s not what I expected.” Mom’s voice was shaky.
Dad rubbed his jaw. “What did you expect?”
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading next: The Diviners by Libba Bray
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