Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.
But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.
Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own. Perfect for fans of Gideon the Ninth and Annihilation.
Highly recommended and awarded several times
I started reading this book for a reading group. It was recommended by not only one of our members but also by a friend of mine. Both enjoyed it a lot and praised it for its representation of badass queer characters in an apocalyptic setting. Above all, I found the setting and the unexpected and unprecedented body horror in this young adult novel striking. Given not only its diverse characters but also themes, I continued reading this book as a potential subject for my term papers. Eventually, I decided to write one on security about it.
The author creates a setting in our future, about 20 years from now.
Climate change made it unbearable to live in the United States. People are sweating and fighting the heat in February. A cult calling themselves Angels engineered a bioweapon to extinguish humanity as the earth’s greatest threat. Our protagonist is caught in this community, although he escapes at the book’s beginning as they are attacked by a resistance group. This one turns out to consist of queer teenagers trying to destroy the Angels. We get to know many of the ALC’s members and grow fond of some of them. Given their multitude, it was hard for me to keep more than a few and their characteristics in mind. As a means of representation, this book is genius and presents queer characters as the survivors of an apocalypse.
Nonetheless, the politics of this world were not immediately tangible for me.
I was intrigued by being directly thrown into Benji’s horrible experience with the Angels. Still, I wished for more information to grant me a smoother read. Many of the circumstances described above became only available for me later in the book. I loved exploring the ALC and its members with Benji. I especially fell for Nick with his autistic tendencies and Erin with her badass and her emotional moments.
Most striking are the internal conflicts Benji has to deal with that were not solely of emotional nature. Himself effected by the virus, he slowly turns into one of the graces. These are people who did not die of the virus but turned into consciousless creatures to be commanded by the Angels. As such, Benji is their ultimate weapon and has to fight even more to get away from them. Even more as they do not accept him as himself but perceive ihm as a girl. The book thus is a story of a queer teenager rising above his circumstances and his toxic surrounding. Eventually, he saves not only save himself but humanity.
Before I left for Reformation Faith Evangelical Church, Nick told me that 99 percent of lying is just figuring out what the other person wants to hear. He said it’s what the Angels have alwas done, and I laughed because otherwise it would have hurt too much to acknowledge. The other 1 percent is keeping your story straight, and if you read the Bible cover to cover, it’s clear the Angels don’t care about that, so feed them as steady diet of their own bullshit until they choke on it.
– page 305
An empowering queer story featuring many of our daily fears and horrific visions of the future. Andrew Joseph White breaks rules and expectations to grant us this gory narrative that takes us into a hopeless world where our protagonist finds strength and resilience in found family and oneself.
Andrew Joseph White is a queer, trans author from Virginia, where he grew up falling in love with monsters and wishing he could be one too. He is a graduate student in George Mason University’s Creative Writing program and has a habit of cuddling random street cats. Andrew writes about trans kids with claws and fangs, and what happens when they bite back. Q