At the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp

Title: At the End of Everything
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Publication date: 2022

Date started: 16/04/2022
Date finished: 21/04/2022

First sentence: “We are the last ones.”
Last sentence: “But I want you to know, I found a place of good earth. And I’m alive.”
Favorite sentence: “In that half year between my parents shutting the door on me and the police arresting me, the only real peace I ever felt was in a drop-in house in Little Rock, where I met a trans girl with kind eyes and a penchant for chaos. Mica. We only spent two days together before she disappeared to another shelter, but she accepted me. She called me Emerson. She stole clothes for me that clung to my body in all the right places. She danced around my mistrust like it didn’t exist. She helped me cut my hair. After everyone who made me feel broken, she was the first to see me whole. That was peace. Whatever God’s light was supposed to be, it had only given me pain.”

Summary (spoilers): Logan, a non-verbal autistic girl glued by the hip to her twin Leah; Emerson, a nonbinary youth who was kicked out of their home by religious parents; and Grace, a foster girl who feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, are all residents of the Hope Juvenile center. As with most young people being detained there, they feel like they don’t really belong there – many were just defending themselves against sexual assault, or had everything stacked against them and no hope for the future. What starts as just a normal day in Hope turns surreal when, at night, the teens realize that all the guards are gone and that they are alone. They immediately stage a walk out, but quickly find soldiers blocking their way. When they ask what is going on, the answer is hard to fathom: a deadly plague has broken out, and the United States are in lockdown. Unfortunately for them, it seems like the world has forgotten about them, and neither food nor medical care is coming their way – but they are prevented by the soldiers from leaving the facility. Quickly, they try to organize themselves: a group leaves in hope of making it through the woods, while Grace ends up in charge of the teens who want to stay inside Hope. They ration their food, try to grow things in the garden, and assign each other tasks to keep the community alive. Soon, the plague catches them up, and several of them end up quarantined in the infirmary. And soon, many die, but many are still alive and trying to survive. After a few weeks, hunger leads them to explore the outside again, and they realize the road block doesn’t exist anymore. They sneak in the nearby town and raid houses marked with plague crosses. Later, when they realize that the government is distributing food rations, but that they would need a ration card to access them, Grace scarifies herself by getting ration cards from a person who is about to die from the plague; contracting the illness herself and dying. At the end of the book, the plague has left Hope and thanks to their garden and the rations, they should have enough food. They are only about 10 kids left, several of them still sick, but they are hopeful about their survival changes.

Opinion: This was an amazing book. I picked it up because I heard there were quite a few queer characters in it, including a non binary main character, and indeed there were. But I wasn’t expecting the story to be so much about found families, about everything that is wrong in the prison system – or even in the punishment ideology, especially for young people, and especially in America. Of course this was written (and read) during the covid pandemic, and there are some obvious similarities, although this is still a work of fiction and not really talking about covid (for instance, the plague here has a near 100% death rate). This book broke my heart, but also healed it, and I cannot recommend it enough!

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