You find the weirdest connections while reading for the Cybils.
Anyway, A Matter of Days.
The premise: A hideous tuberculosis pandemic hits, killing pretty much everyone. Luckily for them, sixteen-year-old Nadia and her younger brother Rabbit were vaccinated by their military scientist uncle, so they survived. Less luckily, their mother refused the shot, so she didn't.
Now, Nadia and Rabbit have to make their way from Seattle to West Virginia, where their possibly-crazy-but-totally-ready-for-any-disaster-hermit-grandfather lives. Relying entirely on their wits—and on the Worst Case Scenario "be the cockroach" lessons learned from their (now deceased) Special Forces father—they head out. Along the way, they pick up a teenager from Los Angeles and an injured Saint Bernard. But, despite the high body count, there are plenty of other survivors out there, and not all of them are friendly...
Pros: LOVED THE REALISM. The practicality, the explanations and details of the hows and whys of the wilderness/survival stuff. Also, I loved the dog. And I loved how [SPOILER] the dog didn't die.
Cons: Except for the occasional run-in with Unfriendlys, there's not really any tension. They don't have to complete their trip in any specific window of time, so that's not an issue, and none of them have to worry about getting sick at this point. The romance between Nadia and Zack (the kid from LA) feels unnecessary and just there because it's a YA title and therefore There Must Be A Romance. Which is too bad.
Nutshell: Strong on the survival stuff, less-so on the character development, relationships, etc.
The premise: A religious cult has taken control of a good portion of the United States, and they're fighting to control even more territory. When they take a new town, all of the prisoners are given a choice: swear allegiance to the Glorious Path, or die.
Cal Roe and his younger brother James were captured six years ago, when Cal was nine and James was seven. They've served the Path ever since, but only to survive: they aren't true believers, and they're just waiting for an opportunity to escape.
All of that waiting turns out to be for naught due to a rash action on Cal's part. He bonds with a stray dog—an AWESOME mini pinscher named Bear—who gives him the first few moments of comfort and happiness that he's had in years. So, when a Path officer threatens Bear's life, Cal kills said officer... and then has to grab his new dog, his little brother and go on the run.
Pros: In addition to the action and whatnot, Hirsch deals really well with the idea that sometimes you need to let a promise go, and sometimes, in order to protect the ones you love, you have to let THEM go. Similarly, he also explores the importance of acceptance and respect for the worldview/beliefs of others: in other words, sometimes what YOU need is not what your loved ones need. He does a good job with economic class, too, and the people who aren't on the front lines exhibit a general cluelessness/disconnect about the conflict that could easily be extrapolated out to a train of thought about our own disconnect with real life conflicts, in that many of us are privileged enough to only interact with said conflicts via television, print media, or, heck: video games.
There's lots of action and whatnot, but those Bigger Ideas are woven in skillfully and not Frying Pan To The Head-ly. Also, the descriptions of Bear? Were awesome.
Cons: The final showdown was a bit of a letdown, as there was an action taken that was due more to instinct than deliberate choice, and overall, except for Cal's relationship with Bear, I didn't emotionally connect particularly intensely with anyone/thing in the book.
Nutshell: I'll be going back to read his previous books.
Book source: Finished copy from the publisher | ARC from the publisher.