I have nothing outright to compare to Jo Furniss’ All the Little Children. It’s a little reminiscent of the Von Trapp family “adventures” in Sound of Music, a sprinkle of the Lost Boys of Neverland, and a good bit of Into the Forest (with Ellen Page– check it out if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) But when you mix all of that together you get something truly unique.
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All the Little Children is half-apocalypse, half-science fiction, all thriller. The story takes place almost exclusively in a forest in England. Marlene Greene (nice) and her sister-in-law Joni take their children on a spontaneous camping trip one weekend. However, they find out in the midst of it that the world has gone mysteriously silent and they must investigate why.
Pretty straightforward stuff, especially if you’re a science fiction, apocalypse nerd like I am. All the Little Children though, takes an intriguing turn– the survival aspects take a bit of a back seat. Instead of presenting the physical “now,” (i.e. focusing on who is about to die of what injury or illness most immediately) Furniss supplies her work with concepts that frequently go unexplored in apocalypse thrillers. Joni in particular asks the tough questions, that is: If two women and their children are the last survivors on earth, what types of things should they be teaching their children, the literal future of the world?
The characters start out a bit stilted. I have to admit: I hated Marlene Greene for a good portion of the book. She’s abrasive and snippish, and she displays blatant favoritism with regards to one of her children over the other. But this is all okay– the book must travel a distance, the characters must learn lessons along the way. As the plot progresses the two women find themselves surrogates to a host of young boys they’ve found in the woods, a fleet of kids they must protect alongside their own.
The way they interact with these lostlings show the reader the childish nature they have within themselves. The whole experience gives a depth to Marlene and Joni that I find profound. I felt as if I had read a new-age and twisted Peter Pan, that Marlene and Joni had transformed to children once again in Neverland. When Marlene commits an irreversible mistake against one of the boys, she goes on to develop a unique relationship with him embedded in amends, vulnerability, and kinship.
A word of warning: the elements in this book are very visual, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a positive way. Much of All the Little Children was lost on me spatially. The characters moved camp many times and I didn’t feel like each location was solidified in my mind: me, a person not from England.
Marlene’s adventures were more action than description, giving me the feeling that All the Little Children would work exactly right for a movie, but slightly less right as a book. Sometimes the group’s next goal was lost in translation or sacrificed to cut the chapters off in intriguing locations and bring them back well into the next plot point.
The ending, though. It was like a shot in the chest. It reminded me of a James Joyce story. The plot of All the Little Children spikes exponentially near the end, raising your heart rate and making you sweat. Then you’re doubled over in your chair: “Ow, Furniss, (Joyce). Must you?” And then you slide into the sweet pain of book-hangover.
Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about his book. There is a lot about it that I like. It was certainly a page-turner; I had planned to read it over the course of a month but I finished sooner. The characters found themselves with a number of mysteries to solve and I enjoyed the way Furniss fed the answers to the reader slowly and not without consequence.
Some things could have been done better: the beginning wasn’t much of a hook, the characters draw strange conclusions sometimes about their situation (Their third day in they start thinking about being the future of the whole world without even understanding what’s going on outside of the forest), and the plot can be quite scatter-brained.
But none of these things change the meat of the story. Stereotypes are kept to a minimum, there are plenty of characters to root for (even if you’re not about Marlene), a whole new type of disaster to speculate and ponder upon, and a new way of viewing apocalypse fiction.
I hear mothers particularly like this book and it’s no mystery why. For once, we have a good apocalypse novel that doesn’t involve zombies or revolve around teenagers. Marlene and Joni’s perspective is fresh and new, so I would definitely recommend the book to someone who wants more apocalypse but less traditional apocalypse, or if you’re a sucker for true-to-life female characters.
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