Nicole’s father, a retired military officer and end-of-the-world prepper , moves his family to a home he inherited in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Nicole’s mother leaves after she sees the dilapidated condition of the home. When her father leaves to find her mother, Nicole is left to watch her obstinate 14-year-old sister Izzy, who doesn’t want to be there any more than her mother did, although there’s not much she can do about it. The house has no phone, their cell phones don’t receive a signal, and both cars were taken by both parents. Nicole, who takes after her father more than anyone else, is forced to contemplate her father’s hyper focus on prepping, her parents’ doomed marriage, her relationship with Izzy, and her feelings for the Wolf – short for Wolfgang – a boy who lives in an adjacent community. Complicating matters, forest fires threaten the area.
All of the signs of young adult literature reside in Jamie Kain’s novel. Parents leave children to figure things out on their own, protagonists experience opposing feelings about their place in the world, and they also confront feelings they must navigate for members of the opposite sex. It’s awkward, but so it adolescence.
Kain’s novel is told from multiple perspectives – Nicole, Izzy, Wolf, and occasionally Laurel, a girl who lives in Wolf’s same community. All four perspectives provide very different observations and go along way to characterize the narrators. Nicole is her father’s daughter; he taught her how to shoot, hunt, and survive. Izzy is more like her mother. Wolf is quite the independent sort, having been left to live in the community (more like a commune) while his mother leads a fairly transient life, travelling, abusing substances, and gallivanting from place to place. Wolf wants no part of this life, so he often reads older than his years. Laurel is more like a sister to Wolf, although she gives off a jealous vibe when Nicole is present; she wants Annika’s (Wolf’s mother) attention more than Wolf. The tension between the sisters, as well as Wolf and Laurel, presents readers with some interesting alternative perspectives of similar experiences, which is something young adult literature should do. Nicole and Izzy see things very differently, even though they both share the same parents, upbringing, and DNA.
Instructions for the End of the World was enjoyable, but I’m not sure I would recommend it over many of the other books I’ve read lately. Nicole’s internal conflict is compelling, and the mess she and Izzy must overcome is interesting, but the story lacks something I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s Wolf’s above-it-all, overly-mature approach to things. While he’s only 17, he comes off more as a middle-aged philosopher. The voice and characterization are not quite right for a teen, although his life experiences have forced him to grow up awfully fast.
If I were asked to rate this book, I would give it a solid three stars out of five. The ending gave me closure, but it didn’t satisfy all of the questions I had leading up to it.