The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout – book review

Cover of "The Boy at the End of the World" by Greg van Eekhout.
Cover of “The Boy at the End of the World” by Greg van Eekhout.
The Boy at the End of the World by Greg Van Eekhout is a post-apocalyptic tale from Bloomsbury about a young boy named Fisher who gains awareness just in time to see his shelter crumble around him. His robot caretaker helps him escape the rubble. Fisher is the only specimen that survived. Who destroyed his Ark? Where are the other humans? What is he going to eat tonight?

Fortunately, the robot has imprinted his mind with the knowledge of fishermen. Unfortunately, there were other more useful imprints available, but the robot did his best in the confusion of the attack. As Fisher makes his way across post-apocalyptic America thousands of years in the future, he befriends the new denizens of his world while escaping the creatures of science run amok, all with cheeky commentary from Fisher and his sarcastic robot companion.

I very quickly encountered two quirks in this book that almost stopped me from reading. First, the writing style was geared to middle grade readers, but the subject matter was often young adult. There was constant glorification of profanity (but no actual profanity), discussion of breeding, and the author didn’t pull any punches during the gruesome fight scenes. It wasn’t inappropriate, but because of the narrative style it was an incongruent mix in the beginning of the story, eventually balancing out after the first third of the book. The second quirk was that the story was too preachy.

Although I am a religious person, I don’t enjoy reading religious fiction. The stories end up being preachy while attempting to be inspirational, and the main characters are always at their superhuman best behavior because they are setting an example. I expect religious fiction to be heavy with message, however, but I don’t enjoy the same treatment in genre fiction, especially when the author has a pet cause he hits the reader over the head with repeatedly.

If your ideological leaning is pro-environmental, anti-man fear mongering, then you may find The Boy at the End of the World illuminating, prophetic, and even relevant. However, if you rather like man and his nifty electronic contraptions, don’t think that consumerism is a dirty word, and don’t believe man is going to blow everything up and then poison what’s left, you might find the constant pulpit pounding by robots and sentient prairie dogs as tedious as I did.

That being said, the preaching quiets down mostly after the first third of the book. In the last two thirds of the story the reader will find a solid tale filled with adventure and exploration that will likely entertain. The children’s literary world is saturated with fantasy, so this scifi tale may be just what your kid is looking for. I would just caution parents that the book is filled with environmental messages that denigrate the advancements of man in a way that attempts to influence the reader.

Yet, for all its focus on secularist belief in the supreme fault of man, the story was also oddly humanist. Was man evil or not? Man destroyed the planet, but created Fisher, our hero, and Click, the loyal and endearing robot. Man created the Ark defense systems that evolved into menaces, but Fisher’s humanity helped him survive beyond his programming, driven forward by a need to find others of his kind. The author slams everything from fast food to man-made pollution frequently throughout the book, but is grateful in the acknowledgement for the miracles of technology that helped him write the story. If my kids read this book, I would expect them to be confused.

Then again, if you accept that consumerism is the bad guy, then this morality tale shows how the indomitable spirit of man will survive his own excess. There is a good story to be found in The Boy at the End of the World. Just tread carefully past the preachy land mines littered throughout its pages.

Release Date: June 21, 2011 (USA)
ISBNs: 1599905248 (9781599905242)
Publisher: Bloomsbury

MySF Rating: Two point five stars
Family Friendliness: 70%

Content:

Alcohol/Drugs: 0
Language: 1 (profanity is not used, but is celebrated)
Sexuality: 0
Violence: 2 (critters are killed, crushed, and eaten for survival)


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