I don’t read a lot of real-world teenager stories, but I was super-intrigued by the premise of This Is Not the End by Chandler Baker–mostly because of the one sci fi element in the mix!
As she approaches her eighteenth birthday, Lake’s life is completely centered around the perfect trio of her, her boyfriend Will and her best friend Penny. But then a car accident kills both Will and Penny in one afternoon, and Lake is left alone–for now. Because in this near-future world, science has found a way to bring back the day. Strict regulations mean each person can bring back one individual, and they only have one chance at it–choose someone to resurrect on their eighteenth birthday, or waive the right forever. So now Lake has to choose, a decision growing only more complicated as she learns new things about her friends–and about her brother Matt, a quadriplegic for the past five years, who has his own agenda in the question.
This was a fast read, very engaging and full of mysteries that kept me turning pages. Lake is likable and sympathetic, and the characters around her are well-developed. Will and Penny in particular, despite dying early in the story, are very vivid, both through Lake’s feelings around them and the flashback sequences that take us through Lake’s relationships with them. I liked Penny a lot, and would love to read a story with a heroine like her. It’s overall great, smooth writing, with an unusually clear setting too, for a contemporary story.
There’s a lot of sadness here but it wasn’t an overwhelmingly heavy book, after the first few chapters. It does have some dark moments though, with a lot of discussion around suicide (including a graphic, somewhat violent assisted suicide scene…so trigger warning around that.)
Much as I enjoyed this novel over all, there’s a “but” coming. Too much of it didn’t ring true to me. For at least half the book, resurrection technology seems strangely underutilized and unexplored. The late portions of the book present some philosophical questions around the issue, but for most of the book I couldn’t understand why, as we’re told in passing, most people waive their right to resurrect anyone. That seems like an awful lot of eighteen year olds untouched by any fatal tragedy at all, considering the process is apparently incredibly easy and (for most of the book) morally unquestioned. A very risky black market is mentioned, but if selling a resurrection is illegal, there seems to be nothing stopping people from helping each other out on purely humanitarian reasons, and resurrecting loved ones of distant acquaintances if no one more immediate comes to mind.
Which leads me to…I didn’t buy the fundamental premise. Two teenagers die in a senseless car accident–no one in their entire high school, besides Lake, can be persuaded to resurrect them? It seems to be assumed that everyone only resurrects very close people, but I never understood why. So I kind of had to suspend disbelief on that. (This is actually a perfect example of what makes sci fi stories plausible–I accept the resurrection concept with no qualms, it’s sci fi, but humans not behaving according to human nature? Different question entirely, doesn’t hold together.)
And as to Lake herself–it’s impressive how much I liked her because there’s a major issue stacked against her. It may be that I really invested early on in her love for her friends. We get an idyllic afternoon before the car accident that sets us up for the rest of the book. Or maybe I felt for Lake in her grief and her conflict.
And about that grief, and what was stacked against her. The book moved way too fast for me in terms of Lake’s grief, particularly around Will. I work in an organization that does grief support so I know that grief has no timeline, everyone handles loss differently and at their own pace. But. Lake is majorly sparking with another guy less than a week after her boyfriend dies tragically in front of her. And is pretty committed to new guy within three. Um…really?
I wish she’d bonded with a new platonic friend instead. Because as it is, even setting the grief timeline question aside, it basically felt like teen instalove shoe-horned in because it’s a YA book.
This is turning out very critical for a book I enjoyed reading a lot! As I said, the characters are good and the plot turns keep bringing in new surprises that keep the suspense going. And I still find the premise intriguing, and liked that there were more philosophical questions about this very weird concept in the latter parts of the book. I just wish the pacing had been different, and a few things were explained a little more.
So take from that what you will! An enjoyable read, but one that asked for some indulgence.
Buy it here: This Is Not the End