Books & Literature

Book Review: The Quiet at the End of the World, by Lauren James

A sci-fi mystery adventure for young adults about the last surviving members of the human race.

A brilliant sci-fi story set in a dystopian future which could so easily become true!

What would it feel like to know you’re the youngest people left on Earth? That incredible burden is what Lowrie and Shen have to shoulder as they struggle to live a normal life in London, which is literally crumbling around them.

Back in 2024, a virus causing unstoppable nose bleeds turned out to be highly infectious and resulted in world-wide sterility so no more children are being born.

Lauren James has a deft hand and has produced a taut, suspenseful narrative locating teenagers Lowrie and Shen in a dystopian future in the twenty-second century but with a nod back to the nineteenth century. The teenage pair are mudlarks on the banks of the Thames. They are not trying to find coal or treasure to sell for food as in Dickens’ time, but collecting strange objects that no longer have any meaning in their very different society, with only around 300 people left in London.

Lowrie finds a purse and manages to identify its owner. Searching what has been saved of the internet and data storage, she locates Maya Waverley’s social media accounts and, for the first time, gets a first-hand view of the havoc wreaked across all aspects of society by the virus. She and Shen learn that despite of decades of research, the problem of sterility remains unsolved and the Babygrow app was developed to meet people’s need to care for babies. After taking the world by storm, the next logical development after the app was a robotic child. Lowrie reads of Maya’s initial distrust and reluctance to get her own Babygrow robot but, as technology develops, they become more and more ‘human’ and she becomes a ‘mother’.

James’ narrative cleverly accelerates as the denouement nears, with the tension being further heightened by Lowrie’s confused feelings for Shen. She sees him as her best friend and pushes down the more tender feelings roused by her hormones. Lowrie both wants and fears a closer relationship with Shen, afraid he will not want the same and then their precious friendship will be shattered. The very small circle of their families and a few other friends also contribute to the tense atmosphere which the author has created. It is as if the teenagers are in a bubble and it is about to burst with who-knows-what consequences.

And, of course, the bubble does burst but no spoilers – you’ll have to read this terrific book to discover the consequences.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Distributed by: Walker Books Australia
Released: March 2019
RRP: $16.99

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