Away We Go by Emil Ostrovski

Away We Go is a meditative piece exploring belonging, society, love, friendship, and the pursuit of a meaningful life. At the same time, there are some interesting statements (almost satirical) about the currently popular YA dystopian genre (of which, they may or may not be a part). Those looking for action,adventure, or a straightforward story will likely be left scratching their heads by the end. But this infinitely quotable novel is smartly written and populated with real, grounded, and very ambivalent characters.

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Story: As the US reels under an epidemic that is killing off children, teen Noah finds himself sequestered in an elite school in the Vermont wilderness. For he, along with his schoolmates, have the contagious “Peter Pan” virus – and will die before they complete puberty. Left disaffected by the abandonment of his family, Noah drifts in and out of relationships. He cares for his girlfriend but knows he is in love with a classmate – who is in love with a different girl. At the same time, conspiracies abound – are the kids who ‘go away’ at the end truly dying or is there some nefarious plot underneath the transfers?

This story does not unfold organically. Rather, it bounces around between different times at the school. I had no problem following the story, however, since the writing is smooth, uncomplicated, and otherwise easy-to-follow. As well, the story is not rooted in action and is more a contemplative piece; observations are rather timeless and most of what happens in the first 3/4 does not need to unspool chronologically.

Most of the story is about Noah’s conflicted feelings – about his parents, his affections for Zach, his relationship with Alice, and friendship with Marty. Within these three characters (romantic love, platonic love, and good friend) author Ostrovski mines a treasure of ambivalence; loving Zach while being with Alice, friending Marty knowing he loves Alice, Alice staying with Noah while knowing of Noah’s love for Zach…it leads to a lot of very complicated feelings on all sides.

There is only one POV here – Noah’s. Although there is the mystery of where the kids go when the virus begins to affect their motor skills, the story is pretty much bookended by Noah learning that a comet my hit the Earth and then ending on the day it is supposed to happen. Chapters count down the days until the ‘apocalypse’ with glee. But it’s all curtain dressing to the pathos.

The tone is snarky, despairing, and insightful. The dialogue is especially brisk and very well written. The story moves quickly and this is easily a 3 hour read. Although not a book where things blow up or kids ‘fight the dystopian power’, it is a very poignant indictment on life. If I have one complaint, it’s that the book tries to be more clever than it is and might be a bit overwritten in places. It’s more of an antidote to the rash of poorly written YA books littering shelves currently. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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