Reviewed by Deidre Swesnik (Mali 1996–98)
SPOILER ALERT! The Fallout is the sequel to The Compound. If you haven’t read The Compound and intend to, you really shouldn’t read this review. It’s hard to talk about anything in The Fallout that wouldn’t spoil at least some of The Compound.
Ok — I warned you.
Seriously — I “oh-so-totally-frickin’” warned you.
Ok – so I really wanted to say oh-so-totally-frickin’ because it’s cool and because I can legitimately put it into this review since it’s a direct quote from the book. Yep. This young adult book was a lot of fun to get into, and definitely a page-turner. This combination of suspense, survival, and teenage angst makes for a great read.
I’m spoiling The Compound for you now. This is officially your last chance.
The Fallout starts when Eli and his family are back in society after having been kept underground for six years (in the compound) by his father as part of a deluded experiment about human survival. Eli had led the escape from the compound, and now the family is back together (without Dad) in their extremely wealthy life, first in Hawaii and then in Seattle. They’ve taken on aliases and have almost imprisoned themselves once again in their luxurious fortress/home for fear of revealing who they are and having to deal with their sad fame.
The family is relieved that Dad is gone — at least Eli is. Some of the family members seem to miss Dad even though he treated them like guinea pigs, made them go hungry, and really messed with their minds. Left behind with their grandmother when the others were in the compound was Eli’s twin, Eddy. He has lived in civilization for the past six years and had thought the rest of his family was dead. Eli and Eddy (now 15) have to get to know each other all over again, while at the same time dealing with what it means to be a teenager. Who should your friends be, do you like girls, do you look cool in a Seattle Seahawks jersey — the usual.
There is a lot of great suspense throughout the book, especially about whom Eli should trust. He meets only a few people, and each of them has a certain creepiness factor. There’s the scientist who is trying to find a cure for progeria, a genetic condition that makes the body look much older than it is, making young children appear elderly. And there’s Eddy’s new friend Tony who seems to appear out of nowhere and with whom Eddy seems to be sharing a lot of secrets.
What we learned in The Compound (and begin to wonder about in its sequel) is that coincidences usually are not as they appear; instead, someone else is fooling you into believing something you shouldn’t. There are lots of secrets and mysteries that need to be solved before the truth comes out. As the reader, you know as much as Eli knows and while you occasionally might be able to figure out some things on your own, you mostly need Eli to figure them out for you (and everyone else). And then the heart-pounding rush ensues when the truth is known, the villains are uncovered, and Eli has to figure out how to survive.
It does make me wonder if our author, S.A. Bodeen, got the idea for survival stories during her Peace Corps experience. One thing I do know is that she has mastered the rage and feelings of being misunderstood that characterize the teenage years. She hits on the anxieties many of us probably had as teenagers about trying to fit in while at the same time trying to figure out who we are. That alone is survival enough!
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I think I would have liked this as a teenager, and I think it would make a great movie. The dialogue is realistic and engaging and the ideas are very creative; I don’t know how the author comes up with some of the plot twists that she does. And there are some cool uses of first names. According to a baby naming website, Eli, for example, means “defender of man.” Then there are Rex, Verity, and others.
While you may have to suspend belief a few times, the story mostly seems plausible, especially in this age of post-September 11th fear and minutemen survivalist paranoia. Of course, this harkens back to some memories of the Cold War of my own childhood, with The Day After movie that scared many people my age, and nuclear fallout shelters. Every age has its own fears — and what is sad and scary is how susceptible children and teenagers are to us as adults and our fears. This book certainly shows how adults should be saved from themselves once in a while by their own children.
Deidre Swesnik laughed for a lot of her two years in Peace Corps Mali and still does so uproariously with her RPCV friends at home in Washington, DC. DeeDee is the Director of Public Policy and Communications at the National Fair Housing Alliance, loves to edit and read, and is terrified of writing anything longer than two pages.