As it has been quite a while since I last read an apocalyptic story, I was looking forward to reading “Half Lives” by Sara Grant.
Two stories told simultaneously, but set in two different eras, the reader alternates chapters from one timeline to the other. This technique allows clues to be revealed, slowly expanding the reader’s understanding of how the future evolved. Some readers may find it difficult to follow the duel stories, but I enjoyed the change in pace. This modern update on the fascinating hypothesis of how society could revert after a catastrophic event is well written. As the survivors are young, inexperienced teenagers, the society that ‘evolves’, is limited in their views and understanding.
The first story (Isis timeline) is set in the early 21st century. A bio-terrorist attack releases a virus that kills most of the human population. Isis, nicknamed Ici, is the key to the future. The story revolves around her escape to a secluded bunker near Vegas. Along the way Ici meets Marissa, Tate & Chaske. The four of them lock themselves in the underground bunker to await the passing of the infection. The seclusion takes its toll on each teen in a different way, forcing Ici to deal with her fears & desires. She is forced to kill to survive, to accept death as part of the new beginning, to overcome the guilt that she has survived, while everyone she knew & loved, died, and finally, to set down the rules for a new society.
The second story (Forreal timeline) is set in the future, hundreds of years later. This story is actually broken into multiple stories for each main character. As I started reading, I wondered why the people called themselves cheer leaders & rock stars; why they were born with deformities; & how the society had come to worship the way they did. As I read further into the Isis timeline, it all started to come together, showing how the past has influenced the future.
The Forreal characters are:
a) Beckett, Ici’s descendant, born with the eternity symbol denoting his connection to the great I AM. He battles to accept his position of leadership and responsibility, especially after meeting Greta, who he falls in love with. He, like Ici, has to overcome his fears to lead his people to peace.
b) Harper wandered onto the mountain as a child. Taken in by the village, but not quite fitting in, she loves Beckett. Her jealousy at seeing Beckett kissing Greta, causes her to lie about an impending terrorist attack. She has to accept her role as friend & advisor only to Beckett, & help him stop the start of a new war.
c) Finch is the antagonist of the story, craving the power & admiration given to Beckett. He has spent his whole life patrolling the mountain, wanting to fight the terrorists. (The bogeymen of past stories, turned from humans, into monsters, to explain why the world was destroyed.) Harper’s story of seeing terrorists, allows him to banish Beckett & to seize control of the village. He leads them into battle, attacking Vega during the night.
d) Greta is a descendant of another group of survivors, whose family have come to Vega to begin a new life. She is exploring the mountain when she meets Beckett. Brought up as the next leader, but also not wanting to take on the responsibility, she falls in love with Beckett. She is forced to choose between saving Beckett or her family from Finch’s mad attack.
In the end both Beckett & Ici realise that it is their strength & decisions that ultimately make the future.
I found the writing style easy to read. The story was gripping, although sad, especially as so many people die. The change in writing style between timelines, allowed me to feel the differences in life more acutely. Sara Grant’s descriptive narrative was sufficient for my imagination to create a visual scene for each timeline. I liked how Sara Grant warped our modern technology into rudimentary representations. Our Facebook, with its smiley faces, that is a modern way of communication; becomes an etched piece of bark, representing the reaching of adulthood. Teenager phrases of rebellion and songs become everyday greetings & prayers. With the higher power guiding them called the great I AM. At one point in the Isis timeline, Ici etches her initials onto trees. Isis Anne Murrey (IAM), & I realised she is the great I AM. Yet she was just a girl who lost everything but still found a way to survive and start a new society. When Beckett discovers her diary, telling the true events that led to Forreal’s creation, he has to decide whether to reveal the truth or allow his family to continue believing in I AM. The acceptance of their fates is quite clear in the telling of each character’s story. The psychological differences, that are so innately human, are well portrayed. I found the characters believable & well portrayed, although I would have preferred some of the minor characters to have been a little more fleshed out.
I felt overall that this story is encouraging, allowing the reader to see that no matter how hard life appears, we hold unfathomable depths of strength that will allow mankind to survive, no matter the odds. I recommend Half Lives to anyone who enjoys Fantasy/Sci Fi or a thought provoking read. I give Half Lives an 8/10 rating. I look forward to reading more of Sara Grant’s books.