Throughout my reading of this book I found myself puzzling as to who I would recommend this to, and what it is actually about. The plot is straightforward, and a little repetitive, but there is so much more to it that will probably stick with readers. I haven’t read anything by Carson before, so don’t know how it compares to her previous work, but it certainly has a lot to recommend it.
The plot centres on the small village of Ballylack in the early 1990s. This dated it rather, particularly as so much of what was happening in the book seemed to resonate with our current experiences of living through a pandemic, but the reactions of characters to what was happening are not date-dependant. We start with a young boy, Ross, succumbing to a mystery illness. He dies and, slowly, others in his class show similar symptoms. One by one, others in his class die and the impact this has on the village and surrounding community is evident. Desperate for answers, we watch as a small community tries to find answers.
Our primary focus is the character of Hannah, one of Ross’s classmates who has always felt like an outsider due to her father’s religious beliefs. Shunned by her classmates, Hannah wonders why she does not appear to be suffering any of the symptoms shown by her peers. Her family try to keep the news of her apparent immunity from her, but Hannah is keeping her own secrets…she can see the dead children and is having conversations with them about how their lives have changed now they are on the other side.
While the nature of the story unravelling is repetitive, I was taken aback by the emotional impact these events had on the families. Each reacted in the way that made sense to them, and this was certainly something that will strike a chord.
The rapture is a theological belief held by some (particularly more evangelical Christians) that supports the view that all believers will, at the end of the world, rise up and be taken to meet Christ. Religious beliefs certainly play a key role in this novel, and I liked the fact that we see a range of attitudes. Hannah’s Grandpa Pete was definitely a character who I felt a lot of sympathy with. Determined to support his family he does what he thinks is the right thing, and this causes its own problems, raising concerns and addressing tensions.
Without giving away spoilers, this was a story that had a clear cause and effect. The exact details of this are not revealed until a lot later in the novel, and I was shocked by the dilemma raised. Once we learned the origins of the illness, I felt this was sidelined which surprised me.
I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me the chance to read this before publication.