Find it at your library!

You can't throw a rock in a bookstore these days without hitting a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel or three. There are SO MANY. Surprisingly enough, considering the saturated market, most of the ones I've read are quite good.

The thing is, they're all very different. Some are gory and scary, going into gleeful detail about a global catastrophe. Others are more character-centered, focused on an individual or small group of survivors, exploring what comes after the world-altering event rather than the disaster itself. This variety keeps me coming back to dystopian fiction—I've yet to grow bored with it because each author presents a new and fascinating riff on the theme.

Find Me, Laura van den Berg's debut novel, is another solid contribution to the dystopian bookshelf. The protagonist, Joy, lives in a hospital in rural Kansas. She and the other patients aren't allowed outside the building, and the nursing staff wear full hazmat suits at all times. A sickness has swept the nation, causing sufferers to lose their memories before succumbing to a painful death. Joy and the other patients are quarantined—and being studied—because they appear to be immune.

Prior to Joy's hospitalization, she lived a nomadic, desperate existence, shuffling in and out of foster homes and group homes. She is haunted by the absence of her mother. What kind of woman was she? How could she have abandoned her infant daughter? Joy has a lot of questions she'd like to ask her, despite her simmering rage at being discarded so callously. Her immunity to the disease, a possible genetic gift from her mother, only adds another layer to her complicated feelings.

Find Me is definitely more literary fiction than it is sci-fi. Van den Berg isn't too specific with the details of the plague or the biological reasons why some people would be immune to it, which I know would drive some readers crazy. She also takes the story far afield from the Kansas hospital where Joy's story begins (so don't get too attached to that setting or the other characters populating it). I didn't mind these narrative choices because I found myself more interested in unearthing Joy's childhood memories and plumbing the depths of her feelings towards her mom than analyzing the causes and effects of the sickness.

Ultimately, this is a novel about a girl and the mother who left her. The dystopian elements are just a frame around a personal story of loss.

If you're interested in more post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction, here are some ideas to get you started:

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Guest post by Adam.

Find it at your library!

First off, thanks to Taryn for letting me put up a random guest post. As a general rule, I try to avoid sullying the beauty and grace she exudes every day. This means staying out of a freshly cleaned kitchen, taking my #2’s in the basement bathroom, and keeping my tacky comments/posts on Reading With Hippos to a minimum. So before jumping into this post, let me apologize up front.

With that out of the way, Paddle Your Own Canoe was everything I hoped it would be. I’m a longtime Parks and Rec fan, particularly with regard to Ron Swanson, the character Mr. Offerman so skillfully brings to life. I knew that Ron Swanson and Nick Offerman would not be the same person. What I didn’t expect was that I would somehow like the real thing even more than the mustachioed titan. I don’t imagine we’re going to have episodes of the show anytime soon in which Swanson is quoting Wendell Berry and admitting to eating salads.

While I didn’t see eye to eye with him on every single topic, I certainly seemed to on the majority of them. Particularly with regard to taste in women. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but there are some definite similarities between Taryn and Megan Mullally. Similar complexion, build, hair color, etc. But beyond similar physical characteristics, they also share quality singing voices, raunchy humor, and a propensity for using random weird voices (okay, maybe those last two are just around me). The chapters where he met, courted, and married Megan were easily the most entertaining for me.  

One thing that the book gets into that I wasn’t a huge fan of was Offerman's decision to move to California and become an actor. It was somewhat interesting to read about the struggles of an unconforming, classically trained Midwesterner becoming a west coast actor, but in general I just wanted him to get back to discussing woodworking and various scenes of hilarity.

I’d like to take one moment here at the end and briefly touch on who this book is NOT for. If you are easily offended, not for you. If you do not enjoy dirty humor, not for you. If you find obscenities… well, obscene, not for you. If you can’t handle sex jokes, very much NOT FOR YOU. Assuming none of the above applies, by all means go get this book and start cultivating your own glorious ‘stache.