A 12-year-old girl searches for her missing father in a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters and violent humans in Cox’s (A Beginner’s Guide to Fangs, 2018, etc.) YA novel.
Wisp has rarely ever strayed from the wooded cabin where she lives alone with her dad. According to him, the outside world is dangerous—a place where angry Fire Dragons burned many people to ashes. Wisp finds solace in a corner beside some bookshelves in the cabin’s main living space, which she calls her “Haven.” There, she’s safe from the things that Dad has told her about, including monsters called Tree Walkers and human marauders that might force her into slavery. Wisp often stays in the Haven when Dad leaves to hunt or scavenge. But one day, he doesn’t return, and when Wisp ventures outside, all she finds is his rifle. She seeks guidance from her late mother, whom she believes watches over her, despite having gone to “the Other Place.” Armed with Dad’s guns and a knife, Wisp braves the unknown to find him—but a few shocking revelations await her. Cox presents the narrative entirely from Wisp’s point of view, resulting in an endlessly curious read. He depicts her as being fascinated by ordinary things, as when she sees a Jeep for the very first time, and he showcases her discoveries with exuberant prose: “She squeezed and gripped the padding, scuffing her feet back and forth on the soft floor, awestruck at how comfortable the ancients’ things had been.” He effectively balances the character’s endearing naïveté with her proficiency; she manages to survive on her own in the forest, procuring shelter and sustenance, while also ably fending off threats. The steadily paced narrative reveals information about what’s happened to the world at large as Wisp’s journey continues, and although readers may predict some plot turns, there are enough surprises to maintain interest.
A spirited, gripping story with a truly exceptional protagonist.