Verdict: SCHISM is an engrossing page turner that skillfully deals with dark subject matter in a compelling, through-provoking manner.
Young survivors of a virus that destroyed the world’s adult population struggle to put the pieces of society back together.
In 2017, a terrible virus has ravaged the planet’s population, killing billions in a matter of days and sparing only children. For the following five years, Andy Christensen and two friends survive in a vacation house in Bermuda – until another tragedy forces them to abandon their island home and flee to North America. After teaming up with a handful of other survivors, Andy travels the devastated United States, tangling with tyrannical local leaders and fighting to find a safe place to call home.
The plot is well-paced, and author Britt Holewinski does not shy away from the darkness in her story, maintaining a sinister, foreboding atmosphere throughout the novel. Terrible events, such as a brutal gladiator-style game set in a Los Angeles football stadium, illustrate the world’s descent into chaos. Violent scenes are harsh and unflinchingly portrayed, but never gratuitous. Certain descriptions of the United States landscape, as the characters travel throughout New Mexico, Colorado, and the East Coast, are surprisingly beautiful considering the book’s challenging subject matter. A late-stage climactic scene in and around an abandoned prison is tense and satisfying, but as the first book in a planned series, the novel ends on a frustrating cliff hanger.
The post-virus society is believably stark, and many secondary characters are portrayed in an unflattering light – petty, greedy, and selfishly willing to do whatever it takes to survive.. The novel’s primary villain, a manipulative, misogynistic dictator who holds power over New York City and its environs, is particularly well-developed. In contrast, the central characters strive to be kind and do the right thing, even when it puts them in harms way. Andy is a strong female protagonist – brave and intelligent as well as flawed and emotionally vulnerable. The teenage characters are by necessity mature and self-assured beyond their years, but they are still recognizable as teenagers, experiencing first loves and insecurities. In general, the author refreshingly takes teenagers as seriously as teenagers take themselves.
The writing is crisp and clear, and the novel’s details are well-researched, down to the names of local roads and landmarks and the types of technology used by the survivors. The level of description makes it entirely plausible, for example, that virus survivors would manage to revive city power grids and subway lines – in less-skilled hands, that plot point would have come across as too farfetched. That said, the book’s rhythm sometimes lags when the author becomes too wrapped up in unnecessary descriptive details. Some seemingly major conflicts, such as an unwanted pregnancy, are introduced but then strangely glossed over.
SCHISM is an engrossing page turner that skillfully deals with dark subject matter in a compelling, through-provoking manner.