When Mariam was six years old, she shook hands with the devil. Now, older — and somewhat wiser — Mariam is fighting her way through hell on earth. Hell is hot and humid. Hell is a place of carnivorous plants, sentient vines, blood-thirsty primates screeching from the trees, and before it was hell, it was L.A. The world has ended and Mariam is struggling through this verdant green hellish nightmare in search of … something. Even if it is only tomorrow.
A strange daughter born to a strange father, Miriam has cloaked herself in independence and isolation, not letting herself get close to others. Not since her mother died, killing herself before the cancer could; not since her uncle left, leaving her alone with her father and his strangeness. But for a fleeting moment, nothing more than a glimpse of the beach between the vines and leaves of the tropical nightmare, Mariam sees other humans. She has a chance, a chance at human contact, at a military force to protect her, to save her, but it’s taken away again by the unyielding jungle. It’s then, lost in her despair and pain, that Miriam hears another human voice crying for help. Having had that brief moment where she was almost allowed to be human again, Mariam makes the choice and follows the cry into the depths of hell.
Mariam is a character filled with potential. With her history, her strange powers — given to her by the Devil at her father’s request — she stands a chance to be an engaging, sympathetic young woman with the strength of will and heart to save a doomed world. When she meets Camila, Mariam finds something inside herself that isn’t content to be cold and locked away anymore. She wants Camila to smile at her, wants to see her happy. Wants to hold hands under the dark of night, cuddle together in the makeshift cave the few survivors call home. She wants to be more to Camila than a friend.
Camila’s life has been turned upside down. Her family is gone, most likely dead, and the only familiar and safe she has in the world are the children she was babysitting and the two adults left alive. Even so, she still finds time for books in the rubble, when they’re looking for food, and has thoughts of a future beyond mere survival of the body. She craves art, hope, and love and is still able to mourn the past, something Mariam hasn’t had the time or the inclination to do.
There is a great deal of atmosphere in this book, but so much of the story is the idea of the setting and the inference of the reader. Months pass between our first introduction to Mariam and the end of the story, and in that time there are a handful of interactions. We don’t see Mariam get closer to the other survivors, don’t really see her relationship with Camila deepen. We see the two of them acting as though they’ve been friends, and have to assume that that friendship is something that’s grown — like the vines and trees — while we weren’t looking. While it lends itself to a removed, dream-like feel for the story, it doesn’t work so well, for me, as a romance.
Even the action is removed and so impersonal that I didn’t always care. I was never able to invest myself into any of the vignettes that made up the story. When, halfway through the book, we start finding out what happened to the world and what has to be done to stop it or undo it, it’s almost too little, too late. Mariam and Camila seem like strong, capable young women, but it’s hard to see why Mariam is so willing to take all the burden on her own shoulders for people that I, as the reader, never got to know.
It was nice to see such a variety of racial backgrounds in the story. Camila is the daughter of immigrants, Mariam is a person of color. The writing was good, the dialogue felt natural, but the strange pacing and format of the chapters just didn’t work for me. Even so, this is a light, pleasant read if you’re looking for either bio-horror with an interesting mythology, post apocalyptic fantasy, or a YA book featuring strong female characters of color.