By: Angie Haddock
Always be ready for the worst day of your life.
This is the mantra that Becca Aldaine has grown up with. Her family is part of a community of doomsday preppers, a neighborhood that prioritizes survivalist training over class trips or senior prom. They’re even arranging Becca’s marriage with Roy Kang, the only eligible boy in their community. Roy is a nice guy, but he’s so enthusiastic about prepping that Becca doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s planning to leave as soon as she can earn a full ride to a college far, far away.
This was described as a YA romance, so I went into it thinking it would be a little on the fluffy side. I was intrigued by the setting – it takes place within a community of doomsday preppers – but thought that was going to be kind of a quirky hook to make it different than other YA novels.
I was not prepared for how poignant, tense, and frustrating this novel was going to be! The kids in this community literally exist to keep the species going, and calling the parents “detached” would be an understatement. In many ways, those aspects reminded me of Tara Westover’s “Educated.” The parents are often using the kids for free labor, putting them in harm’s way, and acting like any harm (physical or emotional) that they inflict is good for the kids.
Thankfully, this story is fictional. But, like any good piece of fiction, the emotions it brings up are very real.
The heroine here is Becca Adlaine, whose parents run the aforementioned prepper community. She is a high school senior, and has every intention of leaving as soon as she can… but, she also has a younger sister. A lot of the story focuses on this relationship, and Becca worrying about whether she can leave her sister behind or try to save her.
Becca’s relationships with her parents are also fraught with difficulties. She both hates them for the way they are, and still kind of loves them because… well, because they’re her parents? I have known people like this, who are still fiercely dedicated to abusive parents because they feel the pull of family ties. So, while I struggle with understanding this dynamic myself, I do acknowledge that it is real for some people.
There are also logistical issues with running away – like how to get away, how to make money to live on, etc.
The Adlaines picked out Becca’s future husband for her already – a boy in her grade named Roy Kang. His family is newer to the community, and they are Korean American, so this will diversify the gene pool. Becca is less than enthused, for obvious reasons. It also irks her that Roy seems to go along with all the training drills and such with no complaints. While she may not like Roy romantically, she is comfortable with him – he’s one of the only people who understands her upbringing, and they have a long history of shared experiences.
All that changes when Roy reveals that he doesn’t believe in this prepper stuff, either. He just goes along to get along with his parents. Now, with two of them, there’s a better chance that they can make a plan that will work.
Let me interject here that Bethany Mangle is a Korean American herself, and specifically wanted to write the love interest in the book to be Korean American. However, his ethnicity is not Roy’s defining trait by any means.
Becca (and Roy) have a few other allies: one is another student in their grade, Sydney, who is not a part of the prepper community. Another is one of Becca’s teachers, Mrs. Garcia. While these two characters do not know all of what Becca is going through, she confides bits and parts to them as needed, and they both protect her secrets and help when they can.
Hopefully, I’ve given you a lot about the emotional punch of this story without giving away too many of the plot details. I didn’t want this review to be so full of spoilers that you don’t go pick up this book!