Lisa is everything you’d hope for in a fellow survivor of the apocalypse: resourceful, reasonable, brave. Well, almost everything. She can also be selfish, proud, and stubborn. Still, she keeps herself and her seven-year-old brother, Todd, alive after a virus sweeps the world, killing everyone over the age of twelve. And when Lisa decides to expand her circle to work with and care for other kids, the results are spectacular. While other survivors were raiding stores of candy, Lisa stocked her house with real food. She taught herself to drive her parents’ car, which she uses to reach farms and warehouses, continuing to build a store of supplies. Meanwhile, other kids become desperate with hunger and gangs flourish in every neighborhood. When one of these gangs, led by tough guy Tom Logan, attacks Todd, Lisa decides to unite the children of the neighborhood into a milita that will work together to protect their homes and each other.
At first, it might be only her free food that makes kids listen to Lisa, but her ideas soon get their attention. Under the direction of Lisa and her friend Craig, the kids reinforce their neighborhood into a city dubbed Grandville. Don’t get too attached to Grandville, though – it’s not the titular city. After an attack by Logan’s gang sets fire to Lisa’s house, she finds a more defensible place to settle: a local school, Glenbard High. The kids move in, creating the new city of Glenbard. This is the city Lisa “owns.” Some find her insistence on calling it “my city” tactless, but Lisa insists that, since she found it and she does the tremendous job of running it – a job no one else seems to want – she deserves to call Glenbard hers.
And so she does, as the city expands to take in more kids and withstands encounters with local gangs. But even with all the efforts of Lisa and the few kids she’s allowed into her inner circle, Glenbard won’t be impervious to attack forever – and Tom Logan isn’t giving up.
The art is appealing, colorful, and expressive. If I’m honest, the thing that made me snag this book was that I love Joëlle Jones’ style, which hooked me in Troublemaker.
The emotional content isn’t quite as clear as the art. Despite the sad letter Lisa finds in an abandoned house early in the book, no one is ever shown grieving for the unfortunate over-twelves who have not only died, but turned to dust. The kids are happy to play and celebrate often – which stands in stark contrast to the seriousness of the situations they face. Other kids are dying of starvation; gangs rule entire cities; and no one knows yet what will happen when someone turns thirteen. Is the virus still hanging around? This is one of the questions not resolved by the end of the story. The uncertainty of the ending has a kind of power: Lisa reflects on the fact that her city will surely be attacked again, perhaps by an army too strong to withstand. Craig, one of her closest confidantes, would rather leave all this and live on a farm. But Glenbard needs Lisa – after all, it’s her city.
There’s no attempt at a romantic plotline – everyone who was old enough to have a solid grip on puberty is now dust in the wind. We get some decent character development, especially for Todd, Jill, and Craig. I’m struck by the sadness of Tom Logan’s attempt to negotiate with Lisa, saying that his (presumably dead) sister used to babysit her and always liked her family. Still, I’m not sure whether I buy the resolution of Lisa’s conflict with him. That’s due in part, however, to the fact that I find much of the dialogue unlikely in kids so young.
Given the plot, there’s surprisingly little violence actually depicted. Mostly, this is a book about kids surviving, solving tough problems in a world without adults. It will likely appeal to fans of dystopian settings and resourceful young characters, while being far gentler, both in terms of hard emotions and physical violence, than many such books are.