I’m very grateful for The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg Van Eekhout. It’s a good, though not outstanding, book. More important, it fills a gap: science fiction for 3rd-5th graders. Because at some point during the school year, a teacher will assign a science fiction book report and I will have a hard time recommending books.
I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy. And we know how much I like dystopian fiction (a lot). I have no problem finding good science fiction books for teens. In fact, some of the other librarians are tired of me telling teens (regardless of the assignment), “You must read Feed. Everyone should.” Or “You have to read Ender’s Game. You'll love it.” But younger kids come into the library looking for science fiction and it feels like there’s nothing very good. Most of them balk at the length of The True Meaning of Smekday (by Adam Rex), no matter how hard I sell it. They shrug their shoulders at The City of Ember (Jean DuPrau), even when I say it has a great ending. And look at me strangely when I say the Jon Scieszka’s Time Warp Trio series is science fiction because it involves time travel. Recently I gave a kid Dr. Proctor’s Fart Powder (Jo Nesbo), saying it’s science fiction because fart powder doesn’t exist. (He was insisting that Pokemon graphic novels would suffice as science fiction.) So, I’m really happy about The Boy at the End of the World.
In some far-out, wacky way, it reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (without the cannibalism, if you will): The world has undergone some major destruction and few humans are left. In fact, for all we know, just one is left. Fisher, our boy, his robot Click, and a friendly mammoth he picks up along the way go in search of other humans. Their hope is that some other little pocket of humans has survived. They face just the right amount of challenges: They must find food and shelter for survival, outwit man- and mammoth-eating creatures, as well as wayward technology, and rely on each other for help. If only the speaking prairie dogs and the role they play in the climax didn’t call to mind Ewoks, I probably would have no misgivings at all about recommending this book. But thinking about it today, I’ve realized it’s ideal for that age group (and they might like the Ewokian prairie dogs). There are just the right about of worries about Fisher’s survival, and the kid is funny and resourceful. His robot sidekick isn’t very helpful, but everyone needs a sidekick. And the idea behind the book – mankind has virtually destroyed the world, but has preserved some things in the hope of repopulating the Earth with again with both humans and animals – makes for great science fiction.