I am not having a good week when it comes to reviewing. I've read several books this week, and I've disliked about 75% of them.
You'll know that this is kind of a high percentage for me when it comes to negative reviews. However, I had a number of issues with Instructions for the End of the World, and hope you'll let me explain why!
Expected publication: December 8th 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
When Nicole Reed’s father forces her family to move to a remote area of the Sierra Foothills, one without any modern conveniences, it's too much too handle for her mother, who abandons them in the middle of the night. Heading out to track her down, Nicole’s father leaves her in charge of taking care of the house and her younger sister, Izzy. For a while, Nicole is doing just fine running things on her own. But then the food begins to run out, the pipes crack, and forest fires start slowly inching their way closer every day. Wolf, a handsome boy from the neighboring community, offers to help her when she needs it most, but when she starts to develop feelings for him, feelings she knows she will never be allowed to act on once her father returns, she must make a decision. With her family falling apart, will she choose to continue preparing for tomorrow’s disasters, or will she take a chance and really start living for today?
Instructions for the End of the World is a gripping, young adult novel that explores family, friendship, and love in the midst of the most difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Like many other readers, including Shannon of It Starts at Midnight, I went into Instructions for the End of the World expecting a more dramatic disaster scenario. The synopsis essentially indicates that whatever happens to the main character and her sister can't be adequately covered by their father's years of end-of-the-world preparation, so it has to be pretty darned bad, right?
Sort of, depending on your perspective. After main character Nicole and sister Isabel are forced to relocate with their parents to an isolated house in the Sierra Foothills, both parents split. Their mother leaves because she's mad at the circumstances, and their dad follows to try and reconcile. The two girls are left to fend for themselves, in increasingly trying and life-altering circumstances.
While I definitely think that it's a disaster-in-the-making for teenagers to be left without parents and fending for themselves in an isolated environment, the potential impact of Nicole and Isabel's story was significantly reduced by the quality of Kain's writing.
For starters, the book is written from the perspective of four characters - Nicole, Isabel, Wolf - a hunky, hippie love interest that Nicole randomly meets - and Laurel, a random secondary character who lives in the same village/commune as Wolf. While some authors are able to utilize multiple perspectives to great effect, Kain's pacing as she moves from character to character, is far too jarring to both development and plot. She literally alternates between characters every other few pages, often without introduction and/or background.
Outside of pacing issues, the characterizations of the book's characters are also problematic. Though Kain is fairly good at showing the frustrations of said characters at being forced into challenging situations, especially as they deal with the struggles of living on their own, some of the characters think and to things that make them pretty darned unlikable.
- Spoilers ahead -
E.g. After Isabel has non-consensual, unprotected sex with another secondary character who is friends with Wolf, Nicole thinks:
"It's not like it was [Wolf's] fault, but I can't help shake the feeling that what happened to her could have happened to me - maybe should have happened to me if it was going to happen to anyone." (Pg. 184)
Say what? She's talking about her sister essentially being raped. And yet, Nicole goes on to think about how she wants sex with Wolf, and how she's concerned that because it hasn't already happened, it won't happen. I mean, what?!
And yet, despite these thoughts, she still finds Wolf attractive... why?
Also, the book basically ends on the most ho-hum note ever, with things essentially being forced to return normal. However, no one seems to have really learned anything in the process. I almost feel like these characters are destined to repeat the same mistakes, and I definitely won't be sticking around for that ride.
JAMIE KAIN grew up in Kentucky but has had a nomadic adulthood. She is now settled in Sacramento, California with her husband and three children. Wherever she goes, her devoted writing and jogging partner, a pit bull mix named Reno, can nearly always be found at her side. She is also the author of The Good Sister.