30-year-old Zoe is working as a janitor in the labs for Pope Pharmaceuticals when the world comes crashing down. People are dying around her from a cancer-like virus, and nobody knows what it is or how to stop it. When the American President declares that humans are no longer compatible with life, she knows it's time to flee. Scared and alone, she sets off on a journey that will take her halfway around the world. Along the way, she will see the best of and worst of human nature, and realize, that it is our actions and not genetics that define who we are.
This is one of those books that I would have no reason to know about if not for some well-timed tweets from its publisher Simon and Schuster. Being the curious sort, I clicked the link to the description, and was intrigued enough to put it on my to read list. It certainly sounded like a book I'd enjoy, and while there are infinite numbers of MG/teen novels that I'd like to read, I promised myself that I'd devote more time to doing some non-work-related reading. I'm very glad I did.
This book absolutely fascinated me. The author skilfully alternates between the past and the present, allowing the reader to witness the diminishing population, and Zoe's ultimate purpose. The past very much influences Zoe's present, and each glimpse into the past fills in another blank of where she's going and why.
Zoe is a basket case. She's intelligent, but she's a bit of a wandering soul, and took the job at Pope to do something that didn't require her to think too much, and give her some time to sort her life out. Married once in lust, as she described it, she was widowed before she had a chance to love him, and she's really not sure if she knows what love is. She wants to feel it, and maybe could feel it if she'd allow herself, but it takes something bigger than herself to realize what it is.
One of the things that makes post-apocalyptic novels interesting is that they are a study in human nature, and this book is no different. A crisis can both create anarchy and bring out the best in people, and both of these things happen. The name of the virus, White Horse, is coined by a priest who believes the virus is another plague meant to wipe sinners off of the earth. The real source of the virus is even more disturbing, and what's worse, not a stretch to imagine.
The writing is excellent, and Alex Adams fully drew me into this world that became increasingly bleak and terrifying. You can feel the world falling apart, and feel it become more sparse and desperate. I also really like the randomness of how the virus affects people, and there are some truly deep moments. A Larger-than-life figure proves to be flawed and human, and a quip about the virus having killed Oprah the month before offers a sobering reminder that in the end, we are all the same. There are a few story elements that definitely ask the reader to stretch their imaginations, but they don't detract from the plot.
The book can be a bit gruesome and has some violent moments, but it would make a good cross-over title for older teens and "new adults" who are graduating from the YA offerings into something a bit more mature. First in a trilogy, this book does have a definitive ending and can be read as a stand-alone, but I am definitely curious to read the next book and see how Zoe's story evolves.