Beyond the Strandline is the pop culture version of Alas, Babylon. Set in Florida, after the collapse of civilization as we know it, it's a story of normal people trying to survive in an extraordinary situation (at least from our current, modern perspective). The book can be bleak at times but is never oppressive to read (I'm looking at you The Road!). The young adult genre guides the book's narrative and characters into somewhat familiar and derivative territory, but it never feels cheap (I'm looking at you Divergent!). This is a unique story with three-dimensional characters that live and breathe and it's a story worth experiencing.
The book's setting is dangerous turf for authors who become too infatuated with their own fictional world. Other books in this type of genre can become overly concerned with describing grid collapse and entertaining preppers and not telling a meaningful story or providing an emotional experience. Beyond the Strandline begins, ends, and revolves around characters. It certainly takes advantage of its setting by casually mentioning arcane facts about surviving the end of modern civilization, something all preppers could appreciate, but it never becomes the focus. Once again, similar to the author's previous work, the exceptional Mooncalf, Florida, where the book is set, nearly becomes a character in itself. Florida will forever be a magical place to set a story and Linda L. Zern takes full advantage of it here. Anyone familiar with the geography and somewhat bizarre weather patterns of Florida will immediately and throughout the book recognize these unique characteristics.
Beyond the Strandline truly shines when the author slows down the narrative and lets her characters breath. Whereas in so many other books in which motivations are taken for granted and characters are merely tools by which the author moves along the dictatorial plot (I'm looking at you One Second After!), Strandline insists on the reader feeling something for the people in its pages. In some ways the characters in Strandline are its most derivative aspect; we have the elusive and battle-hardened alpha male—Richmond Parrish—and the audacious, somewhat erratic, but indomitable female protagonist—Tessla (Tess) Lane. Yet, both of these characters have a back-story and depth other young adult fiction falters in providing to the reader. Their inevitable romance, a seemingly indispensable attribute of young adult fiction, will no doubt bring grins and giggles to all of the female readers of the book. The author appears to be just as comfortable and confident writing about electrical romantic sensations up and down legs and arms as she is about the more gruesome aspects of a post-civilization world. The romance, in a very purposeful way, is one aspect of the book that keeps it from becoming too dire to enjoy.
In fear of sounding trite, the book is certainly a page-turner. Strandline opens with a truly compelling scene and more or else doesn't let up until the conclusion. Admittedly, this is where the book falters some as more and more complications start to crop up—natural, human, and otherwise. No doubt living in such a world would more than likely be one complication after another, but I felt a little whiplash as characters went from place to place to manage one crisis after another. In the end, as aforementioned, the book's greatest strength is when it reminds you why you're reading—the characters. That's the real reason why you want to get to the next page to see how they all fare in a dark and unforgiving world.
Beyond the Strandline, in the end, is good fun. It's not so depressive or heavy-handed it's difficult to get through. On the other hand, it doesn't shy away from what would be very real possibilities in a post-civilization world. Perhaps what is most admirable about this book is that it fits as comfortably within the young adult fiction genre as Mooncalf did with its literary cousins. It's a testament to Linda L. Zern's writing talent. As would be expected, Beyond the Strandline ends with certain questions unanswered and with the reader hanging onto certain cliffs. I hope Strandline finds the audience it needs to compel the author to show us where all of her memorable characters end up.
*The Thousand Club received an advanced reading copy from the author.
Other Topics of Interest:
Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah - Young Adult Fiction
Reflections: One Second After
Mooncalf: Book Trailer