Book Reviews

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

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Released: January 2019
Publisher: Harlequin – MIRA
Pages: 400
Rating: 4/5

What if the world hadn’t ended, but was just on pause?


synopsis

From the publisher:

How do you start over after the end of the world?

Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.

In postapocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.

Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose.

Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.

review

These days it really isn’t that hard to imagine the end of the world. With global warming, political unrest, and the horrifying rise of deadly diseases, there seems to be a very real possibility that what used to be considered dystopian fiction could actually become reality in the not so distant future.

We’re all familiar with post-apocalyptic stories. We’ve spent much of the 21st century consuming them as quickly as zombies eat brains. While there have been a lot of reasons why the world ended in these stories, most of them have a central theme in common: that when the end happens, the world turns into a Mad Max-esque nightmare with humans turning almost feral against each other in their quest for survival. With no governments or power structures in place, everyone is just left to fend for themselves, often with pretty horrendous results.

But what if more than just a few human stragglers survived? What if just enough people lived through the global catastrophe to keep some semblance of normalcy in place?

In A Beginning at the End, Mike Chen explores this through the eyes of four very different survivors. After a pandemic flu wiped out a significant portion of the world’s population, just enough of civilization survived for there to be remnants of local and national governments still in place. Greatly reduced, these governments are trying to keep some semblance of civilization going to protect what’s left of their populations and infrastructures.

Moving through life just trying to get to the next day, those who are left have to act like everything is okay on the outside even though on the inside everyone is shell-shocked and downright scared. Almost everyone lost the majority of their loved ones, but instead of being able to grieve, they have to rebuild.

In a sense, this was almost like a zombie story. No one was eating brains, but the humans that survived seemed to be stumbling through life and going through the motions like numbed automatons. Most suffered from PASD (post-apocalyptic stress disorder), a condition with a wide spectrum: grief, confusion, survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD. A lot of people who lived through the virus ended up succumbing to PASD, a disease that turned out to be almost as deadly.

Despite the bleak setting this book takes place in, it is actually a profound story of hope. Our four characters come together almost by accident and soon realize that surviving is more than just going through the motions. To truly live, you have to connect with other people. You also have to learn to love and trust again, no matter how hard or terrifying it is. Most of all, you have to be honest with yourself and those around you. It may be the hardest part of starting over, but without human connection, is life really worth fighting for?

thoughts

This was a wonderful story with characters I ended up really caring about. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it at first, especially with the whole pop-star element to it, but Mike Chen wrote a fascinating, heart wrenching novel that explores what it truly means to be human.

This book reminded me not only of The Leftovers, but of one of my favorite movies of all time. Based on the book of the same name, On the Beach was released in 1959 at the height of the cold war. Let that sink in for a second- how horrifying must this movie have been when it was released? In it, the cold war ended in the worst possible way. A nuclear holocaust laid waste to the planet and only those in Australia are left. Their reprieve is short-lived, though, as air currents are slowly but surely bringing the nuclear fallout to their shores.

Knowing their days are numbered, the Australians still have to go about their lives, living each day knowing that the next one could be their last. It was staggering watching people in suburbia just…living. Living knowing that it could and would all end. That movie shook me to my core and I’m getting chills as I type about it now.

Even though nuclear winter wasn’t what our characters had to deal with in A Beginning at the End, another pandemic that could wipe out the remaining population was a real possibility. Knowing all they had lost and all they could still lose, humanity had to just keep going. Not only keep going, but live lives that somewhat resembled the ones they had before. They work, they go to school, they date.

It’s hard to imagine having to put a brave face on while doing all that, and our characters are mostly doing just that when we first meet them- simply going through the motions. However, through developing actual bonds with each other, they soon realize that there is so much more to life than merely surviving.


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