Half Lives is a smart adventure story, but it’s also perilously full of potential spoilers, so let’s step lightly, shall we? At 17, Icie’s biggest problem in life is that her boyfriend just broke up with her via text message. When she gets a 911 text from her folks, she knows it’s serious—one is highly placed in the federal government and the other is a nuclear physicist—but the crisis that greets her at home changes her life forever. She’s given a crude map, a money belt and instructions to get to an unmarked bunker outside Las Vegas and await further orders.

Icie’s journey and what happens at the bunker are just half of the story. Generations later, a society led by teens lives on the mountain where the bunker was, and it’s clear that Icie has left them a legacy of some sort. The way these stories intertwine and reveal information about what happened—and the consequences—keeps Half Lives suspenseful until the very end.

Author Sara Grant toggles back and forth between the present and the distant future, and while there are complex love stories in each world, the real meat of the novel is in how things change—or fail to change—over time. Much of this comes through in Grant’s use of language: Icie likes to create new compound words in hopes they’ll catch on, and it’s a pleasure and an ongoing surprise to see where they turn up and how definitions evolve. A few songs on an old iPod become a hymnal of sorts, and “Facebook” takes on a whole new meaning.

This isn’t dystopian fiction, but fans of the genre will appreciate the dark humor and complex future created here, which offers up several “a-ha” moments when past and future reveal themselves. Half Lives is tough and scary, but ultimately a story of bravery and hope.

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