A year ago, Ann and Peter Brooks were just another unhappily married couple trying - and failing - to keep their relationship together while they raised two young daughters. Now the world around them is about to be shaken as Peter, a university researcher, comes to a startling realization: a virulent pandemic has made the terrible leap across the ocean to America's heartland. And it is killing fifty out of every hundred people it touches.
As their town goes into lockdown, Peter is forced to return home - with his beautiful graduate assistant. But the Brookses' safe suburban world is no longer the refuge it once was. Food grows scarce, and neighbor turns against neighbor in grocery stores and at gas pumps. And then a winter storm strikes, and the community is left huddling in the dark.
Trapped inside the house she once called home, Ann Brooks must make life-or-death decisions in an environment where opening a door to a neighbor could threaten all the things she holds dear.
Carla Buckley's poignant debut raises important questions to which there are no easy answers, in an emotionally riveting tale of one family facing unimaginable stress. (from book jacket)
I am, and I'm sure the rest of you, are not strangers to the threat of a pandemic. I remember a few years ago everyone getting worried about the avian influenza (which is the virus of focus in The Things That Keep Us Here). Newspapers would report practically every new case, but then it suddenly died down. And then again last year we had the same problem with swine flu or H1N1. I would read our county newspaper and see a whole article dedicated to the fact that one person came into the city airport who might have H1N1. Luckily, that has also seemed to die down. So having a worldwide pandemic is not out of the realm of possiblility and that makes The Things That Keep Us Here an extremely frightening novel.
The Things That Keep Us Here follows a normal suburban family, complete with marital problems, jobs, school, children. It's not until the avian flu hits home that the Brooks's world falls apart. If this novel is accurate of what would happen during a pandemic, I am really worried. If you can imagine what would happen if the country came to a grinding halt, that's what occurs in The Things That Keep Us Here. Grocery stores stop getting shipments, mail delivery ceases, the electricity goes out during a storm and no one is around to fix it, hospitals are full and understaffed. And if all this is happening and no one is allowed to leave their town because they are quarantined - and no one wants to leave their home because they fear contracting the flu - we have a very scary situation.
Even though I was starting to get really freaked out reading The Things That Keep Us Here, the writing was so compelling and the plot was so riveting, that I could not put it down. The book reads like a true account of a pandemic and Carla Buckley seems to have done a ton of research to accurately portray the daily struggles of family living with a limited food supply and no electricity. It might sound boring reading about five people trapped in their house, but it wasn't at all. Buckley writes about all the emotions that you could ever experience in this situation with great detail and all the characters are completely fleshed out and three-dimenstional. Plus, there is never a dull moment in a world that is crumbling to pieces.
Besides being an excellent read, The Things That Keep Us Here should serve as a warning - that a epidemic or pandemic is not an impossible idea and that at one point we could be living like the characters in this book. I hope this novel sparks discussion about the country's emergency preparedness and that we can become ready for any virus-related emergency. Because if we don't, it will not be pretty, as Carla Buckley so aptly describes in her frightening, thrilling, sometimes sad, and always hopeful debut novel.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.
2010/Delacorte Press/404 pages.