The Boy at the End of the World is a new children’s fantasy by Greg van Eekhout, author of Kid vs. Squid. Like his first children’s book, The Boy at the End of the World is aimed squarely at the 9-12 age group. In that vein, it speeds quickly along a pretty straightforward plotline, with few twists or diversions into details of setting or character. Its likable, if a bit pallid, main character is enlivened by his more interesting (and funny) companions, making it a mostly engaging if somewhat simplistic read.
The book opens with a bang, literally, as the boy — Fisher — awakens in the pod he’s been grown in. The pod is inside an Ark, built to hold the last humans as well as other species, until the Earth has healed enough from its mostly-human-caused deprivations to support life again. The Ark has just been attacked, however, and Fisher is the sole survivor, save for a somewhat-damaged caretaker robot who managed to imprint the boy with the “Fisher” personality just before the attack. The imprint gives him not only his name, but built-in skills and knowledge. Shortly after the disaster, Fisher and the robot, whom Fisher has named Click, learn of the possible existence of a second Ark in the South. After picking up a pygmy mammoth (Fisher names him Protein), they head down a river in Huck Finn fashion to seek the rumored Ark. Along the way, they have to deal with some dangerously evolved species, attacks from rogue technology, giant talking prairie dogs, and the possibility of yet another Ark.
Fisher grows in his abilities to survive, in his moral outlook, and in his self-confidence. He isn’t a particularly deeply drawn or compelling character, but he’s enjoyable enough to follow. His companions add a good amount of humor — Click through his dialogue and Protein through his actions. And Click, toward the end, adds some moving moments as well. He also makes a good stand-in for a parent’s attempt at balancing between being overprotective and letting a child learn through risk and failure.
Events, both action ones and emotional ones, happen quickly and tend to be resolved quickly. A little more time spent in some of the scenes would have helped. The backstory is perhaps a little heavy on the environmentalism (and I say that as a card-carrying member of a host of environmental groups), and one doesn’t want to examine it too closely or it may start to show some cracks.
The Boy at the End of the World is definitely a book for preteens. Even for that group, it’s slightly shallow until we move toward the latter third, where we slow down a bit and spend some more time inside scenes, and where the stakes are raised in terms of both plot and ethics. The giant prairie dogs add a nice bit of complexity to the plot, as well as make the book more thought-provoking with regard to issues. It’s tough to review middle-grade books from an adult perspective, but my guess is that most kids will enjoy the quick pace and humorous byplay and not mind so much the lack of depth or detail.
My nine-year old son, Kaidan, read it overnight and here is what he had to say:
“I thought it was exciting all the way through. It was suspenseful from the very start. I thought it had enough information, but I would have liked if some of the scenes were longer or had more information in them. Except for at the end when the prairie dog leader was explaining a lot; I thought we already knew a lot of what he was saying so it seemed a little bit repetitive to me. The big battle at the end was my favorite part, and the scene with the evil robot was my second favorite. There wasn’t a dull scene in it. I liked all the characters; the mammoth who was my favorite. It was funny in parts. I give it a strong 3.5.”