Post-apocalyptic YA: River Rats

Been a while since I did a post-apocalyptic YA reading report–I’ve been on more of a mainstream YA reading kick lately. (Ellen Wittlinger’s Sandpiper is amazing. I’m beginning to wonder if anything of hers isn’t amazing, but Sandpiper was the strongest yet.)


River Rats, by Caroline Stervermer

How the world ends: the Flash, presumably a nuclear attack or nuclear accident of some sort, though as is common after the end of the world, no one is really quite sure what exactly happened.

It’s a couple decades after the Flash when the book begins (a timeframe I’ve used myself, because it has the benefit of letting a generation with no memory of life before reach YA age), and Tomcat and his fellow River Rats are happily plying their living along the toxic Mississippi river, floating a restored paddle wheeler and trading mail and music for supplies. Until they rescue a stranger from his pursuers and take him on board, after which, of course, Things Happen.

In most end of the world books, it seems to me there’s either some longing for the time before, some effort to come to terms with what’s happened, or some struggle to survive amid the current, changed conditions. The most interesting thing to me about River Rats, on this reread, is that none of these things are the case here–the protagonist and his friends are doing just fine with the basics of survival, and they have no desire to have lived in an earlier time they can’t remember (and, being free-ranging orphans, perhaps have heard fewer nostalgic stories about than most).

So instead of any sort of struggle to survive, the struggle here is for the protagonist and his friends to preserve their post-apocalyptic way of life just as it is, and to hang on to their boat, their freedom, and each other. Kind of interesting that that sort of thing isn’t more common in end-of-the-world YA, actually.

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