Exile from Eden: Or, After the Hole

S. & S. Sept. 2019. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534422230.
Gr 10 Up–Smith outweirds himself with this postapocalyptic sequel to Grasshopper Jungle. Sixteen years after the Unstoppable Soldiers infested the United States, Austin and Shann’s biological son, Arek, is now a teenager. Raised by two dads (who are married), a mom, and a grandma, Arek’s life in their underground refuge, Eden, is uniquely curated. Yet Arek longs to follow his many questions outside the “hole” for answers. When his fathers set off to find someone named Breakfast, Arek trails behind them. Mel, his teenage aunt-in-law and love interest, tags along. Chapters rotate between Arek’s first-person and Breakfast’s third-person narration, as the characters eventually meet. More dangers than just the Unstoppable Soldiers await them out in the open. Will they survive? Smith stays true to the bizarre spirit of the first book while focusing on entirely new characters with equally strong voices. Echoing Austin’s preoccupation with history in Grasshopper Jungle, Arek peddles in stories in a quest toward truth: “All stories are true the moment they are told.” Naked and wild, 12-year-old Breakfast is the uninhibited new society’s poster child. The small cast results in richly drawn, characterlike settings. Unfortunately, female characters remain poorly developed. For fans of the queerness of its predecessor, the pervasiveness of heteronormativity—even in an uninhibited society—may leave a disappointing taste. Nonetheless, Smith’s meditation on sexuality and identity is an effective reach for meaning and belonging in an empty, dystopian United States.
VERDICT Memorable, odd, and invigorating. A first purchase for teen collections.

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