This trilogy opener imagines a post-apocalyptic, adult-free world in which the life expectancy is 19, due to desertification and disease.
Irresponsible, flighty Esther doesn’t fit in with the rest of Prin, her town of adult-acting teenagers. She skips out on assigned duties to play games with her best friend, a member of the hermaphroditic “variant” tribe that suddenly attacks Prin. Inexplicably, Esther fails to question why her best friend’s people are attacking and is instead furious at the townspeople’s desire to retaliate with war. To fight, Prin needs two things: weapons and instruction. Caleb, a mysterious newcomer whose wife is dead and baby has been kidnapped, arrives just in time to take the role of hero and to teach others. Esther and Caleb’s romance is inevitable. But for Prin to obtain weapons, the town must make a deal with Levi, a teenager who sits with a personal army on a large cache of supplies. A conspiracy renders the variants the least of Prin’s worries. While the ruined buildings and desert climate make an imaginative setting, and the idea of a population without adults in such a ravaged world poses intriguing questions, incomplete worldbuilding keeps readers from entering it.
While Esther grows as a character and the story comes to an actual conclusion, the narrative shortcuts spoil the impact; whether readers stick around for the next two books is an open question. (Post-apocalyptic romance. 14-17)