Hello readers! Today we have the third of four reviews of the work of children’s fiction author Greg Van Eekhout. As previously mentioned, my husband purchased Eekhout’s Voyage of the Dogs on the hunch that our son would enjoy it and it’s now become his favorite book. Since then, we’ve read all of Van Eekhout’s books, including 2012’s The Boy at the End of the World.
This story takes place at a time when the human race has been long extinct. Some manmade structures remain but the landscape has been largely reclaimed by nature. Cities have crumbled, rivers have changed course and cut new expanses of land and the odd wild animal still roams the wilderness.
The book opens on the scene of a birth, though it isn’t a birth like any human has experienced to date. Our protagonist Fisher awakens in a pod filled with gel and is immediately met with the sight of death and destruction. Though he has only just become aware, he instinctively knows that this is not how he was meant to come into the world. It should have been a calm, pleasant entry; he should have been met by a fellow human older and wiser than himself.
But this is his reality and he knows that he needs to get out of this place right away. He stops to examine other pods along the way, containing animals like pigs, goats, dogs, elephants and… humans. Al of the pods are dark. None of the gel bubbles. Fisher was born with the knowledge of death and he sees it all around. As he checks one human body for a pulse, he sees movement down a long corridor. Though he isn’t sure what it means, the word ‘robot’ comes to him. It’s critical that Fisher remain silent, in order to avoid engaging the robot. Unfortunately, however, he strikes an object with his heel, attracting the robot’s immediate attention.
“Fisher, I have found you.”
Fisher takes off like a flash, attempting to put as much distance between himself and the robot as possible. How does the robot know his name? He figures the answer can’t be good. Scrambling up a mountain of concrete debris, he is able to catch his breath and assess what he thinks he knows so far. For one thing, he’s almost certain his birthplace has been attacked from above. But by whom? And why?
Fisher was born programmed with the knowledge of what a predator is so he searches the rubble for anything he can use to fashion a weapon. Once he’s created a handy spear, he realizes that he also understands how to build a fire. He wishes he could build one now to keep himself warm but he knows it would be foolish to do so. He would almost certainly alert predators to his presence, including the robot from the facility. How did it know his name? Moments later, Fisher hears a twig snap behind him. He wastes no time plunging his spear into the machine’s chest.
Both readers and Fisher soon learn that the robot has been tasked with ‘protecting ark-preserved species’ so that they may survive to repopulate the planet. Unfortunately, Fisher’s jab to the robot’s internal systems is causing it to malfunction. The robot is unable to call up any useful information that could assist the pair with their immediate survival. In this moment, rats arrive, looking for a fight. But these aren’t like the rats we know today. Over the course of thousands of years, they have evolved to be 4 feet long, with teeth as long as human fingers!
Fisher tries to run away but it’s no use. Armed with his spear, Fisher is able to impale the leader of the pack… or so he thinks. A secondary attack by a lone rat is interrupted by the robot, whose eye is quickly torn out of its socket. Fisher is able to bat the rat away before it causes any additional damage. He can’t believe that the robot just stood there, enduring the attack and tells him as much. The robot simply replies that he has a responsibility to protect ark-preserved species.
This is only the first time that the pair will rescue the other. It’s only the beginning of their epic journey, traversing what is currently known as the United States, in search of others like Fisher, in the hopes of resurrecting the human race in a hostile future they never could have imagined. Join Fisher and ‘Click’ as the robot is soon christened, as they encounter killer drones, a protection robot gone rogue, combative but potentially helpful prairie dogs and even… a mammoth?!
If your readers crave suspense and a little bit of danger, they’ll love The Boy at the End of World. It’s a story of unlikely friendships and even less likely heroes. I recommend this book as an independent read for 10-12 years or a bedtime story for 8 and 9-year olds. Some of the action may be a little scary for some listeners/readers so you might consider skimming the content if you have any concerns. Happy reading, everyone!