Review of Into the Outside by Lynda Engler and Henry Dixon

I would usually start off my reviews with the book blurb to give you an idea of what the story is about – but if you saw my June tbr post you’ll have seen that the blurb for this book is a full page synopsis! So I’ll go back to my old reviewing method of adding in my own synopsis as I go.

Into the Outside is set in a post-apocalyptic world, some 50 years after the event which poisoned the earths atmosphere.  16 year old Isabella is one of the lucky ones who’s family had a shelter to retreat to. 17 year old Malcolm is the leader of his mutant tribe on the surface, searching for a place to set up home; which just happens to be above Isabella’s shelter.   The very first section of the book is great, I liked how the event which changed the earth was woven into a bedtime story of sorts told by Isabella’s grandmother – whilst a bit of an infodump, it doesn’t feel like one because of the ways it’s told. The set up in the shelter is an odd one but one which I suppose stands as a stark reminder as to how the world will need to be repopulated.  Isabella’s mother is one of 4 sisters, all of whom were impregnated by the same travelling soldier during his brief visit.  Yup, it’s got an ick factor but breeding has to happen somehow and I liked how the writers didn’t shy away from that issue.

However that’s where is started to go a little downhill for me, i’m not a huge fan of instalove at all and the relationship between Isabella and Malcolm seemed a little forced in order to get the story moving.  Getting past the eye rolling “rippling muscles” and “tingling” moments, she basically abandons her family to be with a mutant on the basis of a kiss. In a baffling moment her grandmother seems to be ok with this and puts it down to “love is love” and helps her leave with the tribe. Yes, she is a sheltered girl seeing a boy her own age for the first time, but really?  I think that the authors must have struggled with this too, in my view there is a definite difference in writing style between this section and the later parts of the story when everything gets settled.

The above makes it sound like I hated this book, which isn’t the case.  As the story progresses it becomes more entrenched in survival and the harsh realities of life above ground.  Life expectancy for the mutants isn’t much past their 20’s due to the level of toxins in the air, many children are stillborn or die young and the mutants themselves have to procreate around the age of 13-14 to ensure fertility (I did struggle with accepting that bit, but that’s just my sensibilities.) Diseases such as TB are rife, as are the Day 1 mutants who have become canibalistic and roam the lands.  It’s sometimes a hard sell as a YA book because of the issues it deals with and it also rightly moves away from the “swoonfest” of the first part, as Isabella struggles to reconcile the world she has entered with the one she left behind.

The story itself is told from 2 POV’s  within the same chapter, detailing life above and below ground, with Isabella’s cousin/brother, Luke, taking over the underground when she leaves with the tribe.  Setting off to find his missing sibling with only knowledge gained from reading survival books he soon finds himself on a very different journey and one which shows that there is much more to some shelters lives than meets the eye.

As the story draws to a close the writers have found their footing with one another, the story flows and has lost that initial fumbling feeling.  It delves into wider issues around society and religion and how they shape civilisation, bits of both paganism and Christianity are combined with an almost medieval approach to things like healing. It really does feel like a dawn of a new age. It also neatly junctures in with the set up for the next book in the series.

3*

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