A young woman’s participation in a survival reality show conceals an actual apocalyptic event in the outside world.
Telling herself that she is after one last big adventure before starting a family, Zoo (as she is dubbed by producers) decides to participate in a hard-core wilderness survival show. The novel’s first narrative strand takes us through the show’s initial week: we see a series of group and solo challenges, such as tracking animals and filtering water, accomplished in order to earn prizes. We are also introduced to the reality show contestants, who are called by easy-label names like Asian Chick and Air Force. Zoo quickly rises as a leader among the contestants—she's easy to get along with and has “moxie.” But intercut with the narrative of the show’s first week is that of Zoo alone, on what she believes is a long solo challenge. Thinking that the production team has cleared out entire towns and strategically placed corpselike “props” (complete with the smell of decay), Zoo moves east in the direction of her home, determined to be the last one standing and the winner of the $1 million prize. In her debut novel, Oliva has written a book that is clever in the best sense: she is able to skewer reality show culture and dystopian tropes while never letting concept or critique become more important than a good yarn. The novel is thoroughly steeped in its times—the use of a Reddit-like forum plays a key plot role—but unlike other dystopian novels, it doesn’t so much use contemporary times to warn us about potential future collapse as it shows what impact our times have on the ways we think about identity and human relationships.
An astute and compelling entry into the post-apocalypse genre.