May 28, 2013

The Lives We Lost

by Megan Crewe
Disney Press
288 pp.
Ages 12+
February 2013

The first book in Megan Crewe's Fallen World Trilogy, The Way We Fall, ends with Kaelyn sighting her best friend, Leo, returning alone on the ferry to the island.   The Way We Fall is essentially a series of journal entries that Kaelyn has been writing to Leo who is attending dance school in New York City as a way to share her experiences about their island's ruin by a contagious virus that takes its victims from scratching, coughing and sneezing, to hysteria and delusions and ultimately death.  Though her microbiologist father had attempted to find a vaccine, he was killed senselessly by panic-stricken islanders.

The Lives We Lost begins with Leo's return and news that the virus has also ravaged the mainland communities and Kaelyn's discovery of six vials of vaccine that her father had synthesized before his death.  Determined to get the samples to Ottawa, probably the largest centre with medical and biotech facilities to help determine the vaccine's formulation, Kaelyn and her boyfriend Gav have loaded up an SUV with gas, food and supplies to help get them there in the bitter winter conditions of December.  But rogue soldiers dropping bombs from a helicopter onto their island has all of their group loading up a boat with the supplies and heading to the mainland with their rescuer, a young soldier named Tobias.  Once on the mainland, the plan changes to Kaelyn and Gav using Tobias' army jeep and travelling to Ottawa with Meredith, Kaelyn's young cousin; Leo; Tessa, Leo's girlfriend; and Tobias. 

So begins a trek across a frozen, deserted land, rife with criminal survivors and the awkwardness of Kaelyn and Leo's reunion, especially after he kisses her.  While the tenuous nature of their relationship pervades Kaelyn's deliberations on their journey, the danger and uncertainty of finding help overwhelm their daily travels.  It isn't long before the group crosses paths with some people who learn about the vaccine (courtesy of Meredith's innocent comment), disabling their jeep and hunting them down, using two-way radios and armed with rifles.  Kaelyn and company manage to evade this group, ultimately entering Quebec, always on the lookout for rations, shelter from cold and blizzards and transportation. 

Their arrival at a former artists' colony brings them some comforts: showers, warmth, food and information.  Although Gav and Tobias are quarantined, being the only two of the group who have not been exposed to the virus or received the vaccine, the rest are welcomed to stay with the colonists who've organized themselves well to protect themselves from danger and looters.  But, a surprise visit by those who'd been hunting Kaelyn's group for the vaccine has them on the road again, this time leaving Tessa and Meredith at the artists' retreat, and reluctantly letting fourteen-year-old Justin join them.  Their destination: Toronto.

While The Way We Fall reads as a series of shocking developments, The Lives We Lost emphasizes the arduous journey of Kaelyn and her group, looking for help and hope, forced to grow into their new lives because their former lives are gone, just as are so many of their loved ones.  Megan Crewe uses the unsettled winter weather, the unsophisticated characters and the fear of the unknown to keep the tension high.  The young people are never sure whom to trust or to what extent and what recourse they should follow whenever they cannot proceed as originally planned.  But they demonstrate the resilience and determination needed to achieve the greater good (i.e., get the vaccine replicated so that others' might survive); unfortunately, they learn that sometimes tough, even reprehensible choices must be made, whether to continue to strive for that greater good or just to survive, as we learn Leo did.  And yet Megan Crewe's characters could be anyone who finds themselves in desperate circumstances, drawing from their past experiences to help them maneuver through new situations: viral, fatal or otherwise.  With The Worlds We Make (Fallen World #3) due out in February 2014, readers will learn how successful they've all been in their endeavours.

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