Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

All That's Left in the World

by Erik J. Brown

read by Barrett Leddy and Andrew Gibson

All That's Left in the World

by Erik J. Brown
read by Barrett Leddy and Andrew Gibson

Review posted February 14, 2023.
HarperAudio, 2022. 10 hours, 6 minutes.
Review written October 21, 2022, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review
2022 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 General Teen Fiction

All That's Left in the World is about two teenage boys trying to figure out how to go on in a post-apocalyptic world after everyone they loved died in a superflu epidemic.

The author's note says that he signed the contract for this book in March 2020 -- so he had no idea how realistic it would feel. But the illness in this book is much, much worse than Covid-19, and civilization in America has completely broken down.

At the start of the book, Jamison is in a mountain cabin that has its own electricity and well water. Andrew is in the woods in big trouble because he stepped into a bear trap. He needs help. When he sees the cabin, he tries the door, expecting anyone who lived there to be dead. Jamie almost shoots him, but instead ends up giving him antibiotics and helping him recover.

But after they're settling into life in the cabin and getting used to each other and Andrew's leg is much better, a group comes and steals their food, trying to get them to join their settlement. Andrew takes off to where he was going before -- following rumors that the European Union is going to bring help to Reagan National Airport. He tries to sneak away so Jamie won't stop him -- and Jamie ends up coming after him.

What follows is a road trip novel with lots of danger. Some of the people they meet along the way are helpful and kind, but most are the opposite. (I wish I didn't believe there'd be so many guns in post-apocalyptic America!) Just when I'd think they had things in a good place, some new danger would find them.

So there's lots of tension, and there's also romance. It's the kind I like best, very slow and gradual, and you can understand why they like each other. Andrew knows he's gay from the start, but Jamie has had only girlfriends in the past, and is confused by his developing feelings for Andrew. But it's all handled really well, and the reader just hopes against hope they'll be able to make it to somewhere safe.

I read a novel in late 2020 where the whole population caught a bug, and knowing so much about pandemics by then, I thought it was completely unrealistic. (Viruses don't spread instantly, for example.) With this one, which took place after most people had died, I wish I didn't feel like it was believable, but unfortunately it very much seems like it could happen like that.

Of course, there are things I would have done differently if I were writing a post-apocalyptic novel, but this author had me believing the story all along, and worrying about how the boys would survive and figure out they loved each other.

For something as disturbing as this scenario, this was an awfully satisfying novel.