I was pretty friggin excited to write this review. For this challenge, I read The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell for the book challenge. I was super pumped to read a work of dystopic fiction because there are so many of my personal favourite stories that fall smack dab in the middle of this genre. The characters are always really interesting and the plot is super creative and interesting. Maybe it’s just a bit morbid that I spend so much time reading about weirdo takes on the end of the world? I figure it’s an innovative break from lame stuff like ‘things that actually happen in real life.’ Friggin boring present realities, am I right? The female protagonist, Inez, or just “I,” initially comes across as a bit hard to like. As I found out more about her, I understood a lot more about her character, motivations, and fears. As the story progressed, I found that I was rooting for her more and more. She seemed like she had earned her share of street smarts and cynicism, but somehow managed to keep a reserve of hopefulness for emergency use in the event of desperate situations. I’m obviously a sucker for an awesome protagonist. As I read my way through her story, I found myself growing to admire her strength and empathize with her frustrations. Anyway, before I give away too many details about our main character, let me tell you guys a bit about the story.
Inez finds herself in the fallout of a global pandemic. She is oddly immune to the illnesses that have ravaged much of the population, but we’ll find out about that as the story continues. For now, we learn about how she makes a living – she volunteers as a test subject. She also volunteers to help a tormented mother who has lost all of her children to the pandemic. Inez agrees to help her in her attempts to have a new child. Our story really begins when this mother backs out and doesn’t want the baby anymore, leaving Inez with a child. Great, thanks. As Inez struggles and worries her way into motherhood, we’re introduced to her daughter. The daughter’s name is Ani, and her very existence is amazing in a world so completely destroyed by the pandemic.
“That’s what it has been all these years — Ani and me. Foraging, exploring Zones, planting potatoes, watching TV. The whole time, just two oldies even knew who we are. No one knew what we are. What if somebody finds out?”
– The Only Ones
With religious nut jobs and vigilantes on the loose, Inez has to watch her step as she tries to make sure that her daughter has a better chance at life than she had, with a better education and many more opportunities. Ani doesn’t seem to appreciate her chance at an education or an opportunity not to have to lose her body one cell at a time as a test subject. As a coping mechanism in the midst of familial and global chaos, Inez often takes a deep breath and seems to base her existence and stability on the fact that the pair of them are astonishingly “still alive.” Hopefully, the nonsense of this global pandemic doesn’t get in the way of Inez’s hopes for her daughter.
This book was really pretty awesome. I realized near the end of the novel that one of my favourite aspects of this story was the scientific way in which the author explains the pandemic and methods of repopulation. While many of my favourite apocalyptic novels focus on survival and a common theme of problems with reproduction, this novel finds a creative way around these stumbling blocks. When we read about these work-arounds that the author weaves into her world filled with global chaos, we see the beautiful capacity that humanity has for love and support. The post-pandemic citizens live in a world at the tail end of the 20th century and are startlingly close to you and I. This story made me wonder how we would react to, and fair in, such widespread destruction. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who loves dystopic fiction, anyone who wants to read about the strength and persistence of humanity, or anyone who believes strongly in the saving power of familial love. Inez has quickly become one of my favourite characters. She is honest, simultaneously strong, poetically vulnerable, and lovable to a fault. I love her big time.