Off the Shelf: A Review of Instructions for the End of the World by Jamie Kain

You know the feeling when you read a book’s synopsis and immediately feel the surge of excitement as you dive straight into the pool of plot potential? Now, imagine you jumped right in, only to discover that pool had been drained. Welcome to how I felt about Instructions for the End of the World.

instructions

Summary via Goodreads
“He prepared their family for every natural disaster known to man—except for the one that struck.
When Nicole Reed’s father forces her family to move to a remote area of the Sierra Foothills, one without any modern conveniences, her life is completely turned upside down.
It’s not that Nicole isn’t tough. She’s learned how to hunt, and she knows how to build things—she’s been preparing for the worst-case scenario for what seems like forever.
But when she and her sister, Izzy, are left alone in this remote landscape to fend for themselves, her skills are put to the ultimate test. She’s fine for a while, but then food begins to run out, the pipes begin to crack, and forest fires start to inch closer every day.
When Wolf, a handsome boy from the neighboring community, offers to help, Nicole feels conflicted. She can take care of herself. But things have begun to get desperate, and there’s something about this boy she can’t shake.
As feelings develop between these two—feelings Nicole knows her father would never allow once he returns—she must make a decision. With her family falling apart, will she choose to continue preparing for tomorrow’s disasters, or will she take a chance and start living for today?”

Things I Liked:

The premise. Well, that’s a stretch. I liked the idea of a girl being raised by a survivalist and having to put those skills to the test. Probably because it’s an idea near and dear to me…that happens to be the premise of a NaNoWriMo novel I was working on a couple years ago. But does that happen in this book anywhere? Sadly, no. Maybe I’m just biased…Maybe it’s cause I was born and raised in Appalachia, and my dad happens to be a prepper…but I’m pretty sure Nicole didn’t exhibit any survivalist skills at all. Sure, she carries a gun (can she shoot it? don’t really know…she kills a squirrel in a flashback, but is haunted by the memory), but carrying that gun seems to be about the only “skill” Nicole has. The girl doesn’t understand basic plumbing, and we’re expected to believe that she’s some survivalist expert thanks to her dad? She doesn’t strike me as someone who would make it a week if a real crisis happened.

Oh, well…there went the one thing I liked about the book…

I suppose I could say that I somewhat liked Wolf, Nicole’s hippie commune tree-hugging neighbor who is immediately drawn to her even though she personifies everything against his beliefs. Well, that actually kinda makes me gag a little…but truthfully, he wasn’t a bad character. The book switches point of view between the characters, and his sections were the most tolerable. I would have been happier with less about Nicole, and more about Wolf, his life in the commune, and his strained relationship with his mother. That might’ve made for an interesting book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

SO. MUCH. POTENTIAL. SQUANDERED.

You’re probably getting the idea that I didn’t like this book. Cause I didn’t. I wanted to SO, SO bad. I didn’t give up on it. I pushed my way through, waiting for it to fulfill the hopes that I had had for such a promising plot. Spoiler alert – it didn’t happen.

First, if you read the book’s description and think Nicole and her sister are going to be surviving some end-of-the-world scenario, you’re wrong. Let’s clear that up right now. It’s more like this: Survivalist Dad brings unhappy wife, eager-to-please daughter, and younger brat daughter to live in a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere. Unhappy Wife, a Cambodian immigrant who just wants a normal life, gets pissed about living less than upper middle class (on top of a few other reasons), and flees the cabin to find a better life. Survivalist Dad goes to look for her, leaving his two children some supplies and the expectation that he will be back within a few days, at the most a week. Well, guess what? Dad stays gone…OVER A MONTH. Who does that? Really? I’m pretty sure that’s child neglect. Oh, sure, he expects Nicole to have the skills to keep her sister and herself alive, but as I mentioned before, nothing about this book made me think that Nicole could truly take care of herself. And it doesn’t even really get hard for them…the worst of it is when they can’t figure out the plumbing so -oh no!- they can’t shower. Did the author research survival skills at all? It might have been a good idea to incorporate a little practical, survival wisdom SOMEWHERE in a book with this plot.

Also, the switches in POV often include major time gaps that aren’t explained. It’s often hard to tell how much time has passed. Oh, and an important thing happened? You might hear about it vaguely. At one point, we’re in Nicole’s sister’s point of view, and she’s fed up and hitchhiking to town with a bunch of kids from the hippie commune. Next, we’re in Nicole’s POV and she briefly mentions that she and her sister got into an argument at midnight the night before. Wait…the night before? That’s when her sister was supposed to be gone. Oh…well…a few pages later Wolf explains that the commune kids brought her back home. It’s completely convoluted and confusing. There’s a definite struggle trying to keep up with this kind of timeline, and to me it just wasn’t worth the effort.

And probably the thing that ticked me off the most…Warning! Spoiler alert! When their dad finally does return, it’s only because of an emergency situation with wildfire spreading close to the house. He gets arrested for going against the order to evacuate (…does no one with the police notice that two minors are now unattended? Okay, guess we will just ignore that cause I guess no one at the emergency shelter noticed that the two girls were on their own either…)BUT THEN…Nicole finally confronts her father about the real reasons her mother left. What does Dad do? SLAP HER. That’s right, he slaps her…right in front of her sister and everything. Where does it go from here? Nowhere. It becomes a “we don’t really talk about that” kind of thing, but hey, at least the girls get to go to public school now since Dad feels guilty. That makes it worth it, right? No. He left two children to survive on their own for over a month and then slaps the crap out of his daughter that dares to challenge him…does none of this sound like abuse to anyone? and we’re supposed to just think it’s all hunky-dory? This quite literally made me sick.

Overall Rating:

It’s getting a 2, and let’s consider that generous. For a moment, I felt like I might be taking it a bit too hard on the book. Maybe I should be a bit nicer and give it a three. Then, I remembered how many times I said out loud while reading, “I don’t know if I even want to finish this.” Nope. If you get that kind of reaction out of me, then I can’t just give you a middle ground 3. It’s definitely a 2. It had so much potential, and a lot of things I really wanted to like…but I just didn’t. Poorly executed and overall very disappointing.

Add Instructions for the End of the World to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
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Purchase via Barnes & Noble

 

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