Fire-Us: The Kindling (book one of the Fire-Us trilogy), by Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher
How the world ends: A virus kills all the grown-ups (everyone past puberty?) in the world; without the adults around, most of the kids soon die, too.
Set five years after the virus (remembered by the kids as the “fire-us”) hits; a small group of kids, ranging in age from 5 to 14, who as far as they know are the only people left in the world, are surviving in a small Florida town by raiding the local stores for canned food. But the food is running out, so they hit the road, looking for a place called Washington and a grown-up called President. The kids remember only bits and pieces of life before, and are trying to make sense of those memories and their world. They’ve even forgotten their real names, which was stretching it, for me; on the other hand, by the end of the first book I began to think perhaps the virus had actually messed with their memories. All the kids are a little crazy and unbalanced, in their different ways, whether from the virus or from seeing the world fall apart at a very young age, we don’t know yet. Each kid has also taken on a role in trying to hold their makeshift family together: Hunter hunts for food and clears the bones of the dead away so the younger kids don’t have to see them; Teacher goes through old magazine clippings searching for knowledge that will help them; Mommy feeds and comforts the little ones, and so on. They all hold things together, in their strange way, but one gets the sense that this isn’t sustainable over the long term, and that something’s going to give soon. Besides, the oldest kids are now almost grown-ups themselves–what if the fire-us gets them, too?
Imaginative, clever, lots of nice details; not sure I completely suspended my disbelief or was fully immersed in the world, but a lot depends on how the next two books handle the story.