A YA novel presents a coming-of-age story set in an ecologically distressed era.
In a near future America, inaction on the issue of climate change has led to a reality where multiyear droughts, species extinctions, epidemics, and instances of ecoterrorism are part of U.S. life. In a depopulated town in north-central Nebraska, Jack Kobb is raised by his mother and his father, the area doctor who teaches him about the stars. Jack pines after Millie—the granddaughter of his neighbor who sometimes comes to town for the summer—and lives in fear of being bullied for a medical condition that he tries to hide. One day, his grandfather arrives, a man with a mysterious past known simply as Kobb, who offers advice and tells Jack about his family history. “Jack was a guy I used to know,” Kobb tells the young Jack of his namesake. “Jack was gone before your dad was born. Great guy. He’d do anything for you, Jack.” As Jack grows older, the pressures of the state on his family and his grandfather’s enigmatic past come to a head. More significantly for Jack, perhaps, is that his secret medical condition may mean that he is the only boy of his generation capable of naturally conceiving a child. Goodson (The Blue-Eyed Girl, 2014, etc.) writes in an elegant but straightforward prose that mimics Jack’s constant struggle to understand the world around him: Kobb “worked a wrench back and forth and removed each bolt, one at a time. Kobb worked with machines like Dad worked with animals, and I thought about the microscope and looking at the little living things.” Despite the somewhat dystopian setting, the novel is really a small, quiet book. It harkens back to the coming-of-age stories of earlier eras, where experience accumulates gradually and dramatic incidents are rare. Some readers may find that there isn’t enough here to interest them—the story is not terribly exciting or emotional, nor does it have an especially strong political perspective—but there is something compelling about the slow development of Jack into a full person that should keep readers following along.
An unflashy, character-driven dystopian tale.