There are a few ways to approach reading during a pandemic: seek out fun or escapist books that buoy you and feel like a literary hug, or go all-in to an engrossing, dark read with a “hey, it could always be worse…” approach. This book is for those who chose the latter. 

On an island off the coast of Maine, the students of an all-girls boarding school — and the wilderness of the island — suffer from an infection of “the tox,” which ravaged their bodies and minds as they fight for survival. Friends Hetty, Byatt, and Reece are pushed to extremes as they attempt to uncover the truth behind the mysterious disease while their classmates continue to die after gruesome flair ups of perplexing and grotesque symptoms while they wait for a cure and fight over rations delivered by boat from the mainland.

When Hetty is selected for the coveted Boat Shift, which affords the only opportunity to see the extent to which the island has changed, and when Byatt disappears, the truth of the bleak outlook and the secrets their two remaining teachers have been keeping begin to unravel, setting off a thrilling struggle for survival.

This book will captivate readers with its gorgeous prose, and the frenzied first-person narration reverberates in your bones. Atmospheric and gruesome, yet driven by fiercely loyal characters, it will appeal to readers who like action and survival stories as much as those who enjoy character-driven, introspective novels. Anyone who is interested in conspiracy theories, science and evolution, feminism, environmentalism and climate change, will not be able to put this down.

Molly Wetta is the Library Services Manager of the Santa Barbara Public Library.

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