Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, Walker Books Ltd, March 2019, 335 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781406375510
The Quiet at the End of the World is a wonderfully apt title. This is a story about the human race slowly and quietly becoming extinct. This is not another YA dystopian horror story, where the superhero saves the world. This is a story about love and the sacrifices made for those we love.
“You don’t remember the perfect things when you think about the people you love. You think of the them things. The little habits or guilty pleasures or secret flaws that only they have. Those are the things that make them unique. Those things make us all human.”
It’s 2106 and Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on earth. They live with their respective parents and a couple of hundred others in a pocket of London. They are the last survivors of a virus that caused global infertility. They know that eventually they will be the last two humans on the planet.
From Lowrie’s point of view we learn how they spend their days. Their favourite activity is fossicking for treasure through the collapsing London cityscape. On one of these excursions, Lowrie discovers a handbag belonging to Maya Waverley, and begins to investigate Maya’s profile on old social media sites. This is where it starts to really get interesting. Lowrie and Shen cannot understand the point of social media, or how anyone could possibly reveal their personal lives in such a public domain. I think young readers will find this concept very difficult to comprehend, as they have lived their whole lives with the internet and social media as their constant companions.
Through Maya’s postings they discover how the world coped with not being able to have biological children. As they piece together what happened in the past, Lowrie ponders “Here on the outskirts of civilization, we’re just archaeologists trying desperately to understand the echoes of long-lost objects, which we don’t have the context to properly imagine. We can use shards of tiles and screenshots of articles to assemble a picture, but there will always be pieces missing.”
I won’t give more away – you’ll just have to read the book!
Lowrie is a fabulous narrator. She is real! She has self-doubt; she questions her place in the world and how she can lead a meaningful life in the face of extinction. She’s falling in love with Shen, but is terrified to reveal her feelings for fear of damaging their friendship. This developing attraction between Lowrie and Shen is handled with skill and nuance.
Through Lowrie the reader gets a real sense of what it would feel like know that you are the last of the human race. “Our lives are particles on a riverbed being lost by the waters of time. Here and then gone in a moment. Nothing, in the grand scheme of things.”
Lowrie may not be your usual superhero, but she is a real hero in my eyes. Instead of giving up, she faces the future with determination and grit: “I can’t sit here, quiet at the end of the world. I have to fill the world with noise. I have to shout and fight and give everything I have to make sure this isn’t the end. I might fail, but that’s OK. Because what’s the point of living, if you don’t try?”
James has tackled some deep philosophical questions in this book, but with an exceptionally light hand. These themes are deftly woven through a story that has real depth, without being ponderous or preachy, and has a few plot twists that certainly took me by surprise! Refreshingly, this is a stand alone novel, with a satisfying conclusion.
Highly recommended for readers from Year 7+.
Reviewed by Gaby Meares