After The Flood by Kassandra Montag
Read by Hilary Huber
Published September 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library as part of Omaha Reads
A little more than a century from now, the world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, starting with the great coastal cities, rising floodwaters have left America an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water. Civilization as it once was is gone. Bands of pirates roam the waters, in search of goods and women to breed. Some join together to create a new kind of society, while others sail alone, barely surviving.
Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious and feisty eight-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting small hamlets and towns on dry land only to trade for supplies and information. Just before Pearl’s birth, when the monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska, Maya’s oldest daughter, Row, was stolen by her father.
For eight years Myra has searched for the girl that she knows, in her bones and her heart, still lives. In a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment of raiders on the coast of what used to be Greenland. Throwing aside her usual caution, she and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas to rescue the girl, now thirteen.
On the journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship, a band of Americans like them. In a desperate act of deceit and manipulation, Myra convinces the crew to sail north. Though she hides her true motivations, Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers, men, women, and children who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world.
But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten to capsize their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers.
Some years ago, I began picking all of the books for my book club. While I worked to make sure they were books that were discussion worthy and that I thought would appeal to the book club overall, I also only picked books that I wanted to read. Book club no longer became a place where I was pushed to read out of my comfort zone (even as I pushed the other members to do the same).
Once a year, the Omaha Public Library (along with votes from the community) selects a book for Omaha Reads that the community will read together. They are always books written by Nebraska authors or set in Nebraska. They are not always books that were on my radar or that I would have picked up otherwise. The Omaha Reads books tend to be the only time my book club reads a book out of my comfort zone and After The Flood was no exception. It also proves that it's good to read out of your comfort zone sometimes.
Yes, After The Flood is, like most other dystopian novels, a survival story. But it is also much more than that. It is the story of what a mother's love makes her capable of doing as well as a story of hope, trust, and secrets. While Myra is a complicated character, we are drawn to her out of pity (she has lost her mother, father, and grandfather to the floods - how could you not pity her?) but also because of her courage. She will do anything to protect the daughter she gave birth to on Bird (the boat her grandfather built in their attic) but is also willing to risk everything to save the daughter her husband kidnapped.
But as I begin to see what Myra was capable of doing, I began to question just how much I should trust her. Was she a reliable narrator, when we know that she is lying to others? Myra is not the only one keeping secrets and all of them will come back to haunt the crew of the Sedna, the ship Myra and Pearl are saved by when the Bird sinks.
While After The Flood is nowhere as unrelenting or a dark as Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Montag successfully builds mounting tension, fills the book with a level of violence that feels believable given the situation, and doesn't end her book happily-ever-after. But she leaves readers with hope. And, although Montag never explains what caused the world to flood, I can't help but believe it was caused by climate change, I need to be able to find hope in a future that oftentimes feels so hopeless.