Anna is a prepubescent girl living in a world where all the adults have been wiped out by a virus. The oldest people still living are around 13 or 14 years old, but as soon as they hit puberty, they too will develop the Red Fever- rashy, red blotches on the skin, bulging eyeballs, scabs and constant coughing- all leading to death. No one knows what caused it, or how it spread so quickly, but after four years, the only surviving members of the human race are children.
Living with her younger brother Astor, Anna survives by scavenging nearby Sicilian towns for food and supplies. She can be gone for days at a time- barely seeing another soul- and is only really hassled by the packs of stray dogs that roam the streets, also looking for food. Living by the rules of a book her mother wrote for her before she died, Anna tries her best to keep Astor safe and well- bringing him up as best as she can. She makes up stories to discourage him from going out into the world and seeing the horrors that await- the fleshless skeletons of the adults, the overgrown weeds that have taken over the streets, the blackened and charred remains of the town after a fiery explosion, and the pungent smells that still linger after all of the death.
But after a chance encounter with a gang of blue-painted children, Anna’s sense of security is shattered. Astor, who is beginning to question everything that Anna has been telling him, is drawn into a new world- one which is not quite the same as the one that Anna has told him about.
After this, everything begins to change…
This is a well-written dystopian tale set in Sicily, Italy. While the premise of a society ruled by children isn’t original (Michael Grant’s Gone series, as well as a few others have already set a benchmark for this idea), the writing is compelling and the storyline is quite credible. Anna is a stubborn and strong character but she still shows a certain vulnerability, particularly when she ‘consults’ with the decorated skeleton of her mother, who is locked away in the master bedroom. This inability to let go of the past is compounded by the added responsibility of looking after Astor; yet this also gives her a purpose to continue life as a survivor, despite being so young herself. Throughout the novel, we meet other characters who have grown up in similar circumstances throughout the last four years, and it is interesting to see how their previous life experiences have shaped the way that they handle their lives in the present.
Written by the bestselling author of I’m Not Scared (a novel which many schools cover as an English text), this novel is sharp-paced and clever in its delivery. While some people may be perturbed by the rather inconclusive ending, it is still worth picking up for the interesting storyline.