In the After (In the After #1) by Demitria Lunetta
Genre: YA Dystopian
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release date: June 25 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
In a word: a terrifying horror story, with two of the most interesting silent characters ever, beautifully written and perfectly paced.
I’ve learned to live in a soundless world. I haven’t spoken in three years. Not to comment on the weather, not to shout a warning, not even to whisper my own name: Amy. I know it’s been three years because I’ve counted the seasons since it happened. In the summer before the After when I’d just turned fourteen.
Having already read quite a few dystopians this year, it takes an original premise to even get me to pick one up these days. But In the After grabbed my attention because the two main characters are a teenaged girl and a six-year-old. This combo might sound odd, but it sure worked for me. Amy and Baby are two of the most resourceful, smart and lovable apocalypse survivors you’re sure to meet anytime soon. I was on the edge of my seat during most of the book—both the first third that tells their story while they are living on their own, and the second two-thirds after they’ve been captured and taken to the compound called New Hope. Lunetta has a way of keeping the reader guessing, because there are not one but two major mysteries to the story. Some familiar dystopian elements are present—like the alien creatures that are picking everyone off, and a compound with strict rules that keeps the beasties out but also controls their citizens—but it’s the way Lunetta tells her tale that feels fresh. And the added bonus (for me at least)? In the After puts teen romance in the back seat.
Amy has been on her own for three years, ever since They came and destroyed most of humanity. Thanks to her overly cautious mother, Amy’s house is equipped with solar panels, a unit that collects rain water, and best of all, an electric fence that surrounds the property. This fence keeps Them out and Amy safe. Amy lives with a young girl that she calls Baby, who was only a toddler when Amy found her alone in a grocery store and brought her home. Because They have extremely good hearing, but bad eyesight, They look for food (humans!) during the day and hide away at night, when they can’t see very well.
Amy and Baby are masters at creeping around without making a sound. They forage for supplies at night when it’s safer, and they never, ever speak out loud. To do so would most certainly lead to their deaths, as They are listening for the slightest noise to lead them to Their prey. Instead of talking, Amy and Baby speak in sign language. But all these precautions can’t keep them safe forever (otherwise, there wouldn’t be a story to tell!) and after getting too close to a hovering craft that might just be a spaceship, the girls are captured and taken to a place called New Hope, a compound full of other humans who have also survived. But being around humans isn’t necessarily safe either, as Amy is about to find out, and it will take all her survival skills to stay on her toes in this new world.
The story is divided up into three parts. The first third of the book is Amy and Baby trying to stay alive outside the compound. I did love this section, because the reader really doesn’t know what is happening, who They are, and why They are killing and eating humans. This section is fraught with danger and tension, and even though Amy and Baby are so good at surviving, they still live in fear of being caught outside their house. Several nasty encounters with other human survivors happen in this section as well, leading us to worry even more about our favorite heroines!
The second and third parts of the story take place in New Hope, a community of some 3,000 survivors that stay safe behind an invisible wall of sonic noise that keeps Them out. I’ve read other reviews of In the After that didn’t particularly like this part of the book, but I have to disagree with them. Yes, the story of New Hope and what’s going on there does take a sharp left and feels much different than the first part, with new characters and new dangers. But the way Lunetta structures this section is brilliant. When part two begins, Amy is imprisoned in a place called the Ward, where she is seemingly undergoing psychiatric evaluation for something she did that she can’t remember. The story cuts back and forth from her drug-induced days lying in a hospital bed in the Ward, to her assimilation into her new life as a part of the New Hope community. Eventually the two narratives meet up and the author finally gives us answers, but the journey to this exciting ending is so compelling that you don’t really mind being in the dark.
There were several characters that I loved besides Amy and Baby. A girl named Kay, who just happens to be an ex-Japanese pop star, trains Amy to be a Guardian, one of the elite who go beyond the walls of New Hope and bring back supplies, among other things. And I liked the potential romantic character of Rice, a teen who helps Amy and Baby in many ways, but luckily doesn’t become the dreaded insta-love boy toy, at least in this installment.
Lunetta gives us many poignant moments, as Amy struggles to adapt to her new life without her old family and friends. One such moment nearly brought tears to my eyes, as Amy notices that Baby has lost her first tooth; she laments that poor Baby will never be visited by the Tooth Fairy.
Some shocking reveals come at the end (shocking for me, at least!) and like all good stories, Amy has some hard decisions to make. I’m so looking forward to the next book, since I loved spending time with these characters. Lunetta’s debut should be read by everyone who loves strong characters and intricate relationships, not to mention some pulse-pounding terror thrown in. Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may be different from the finished version.
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This review is part of the Debut Author Challenge, hosted by Hobbitsies.