Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
On Day 56 of the pandemic called BluStar, sixteen-year-old Nadia's mother dies, leaving her responsible for her younger brother Rabbit. They secretly received antivirus vaccines from their uncle, but most people weren't as lucky. Their deceased father taught them to adapt and survive whatever comes their way. That's their plan as they trek from Seattle to their grandfather's survivalist compound in West Virginia. Using practical survival techniques, they make their way through a world of death and destruction until they encounter an injured dog; Zack, a street kid from Los Angeles; and other survivors who are seldom what they seem. Illness, infections, fatigue, and meager supplies have become a way of life. Still, it will be worth it once they arrive at the designated place on the map they have memorized. But what if no one is there to meet them?
Intense, realistic, and entirely believable, A Matter of Days took my breath away. Amber Kizer does post-apocalyptic in the most beautifully understated way and makes a disturbing pandemic and the world created in its aftermath feel absolutely plausible.
BluStar came on quickly, eliminating much of the world's population in a matter of weeks. Some people had a natural immunity, but Nadia and her younger brother Rabbit were vaccinated against the hemorrhagic virus. But surviving wasn't enough. They have to make a treacherous trip cross country from Seattle to West Virginia, confronting the new and hostile world formed in the wake of the disease in hopes of reaching a safe haven they hope will offer a new beginning.
So often post-apocalyptic novels are over-the-top, but I think the restraint is what impressed me most about A Matter of Days. Human nature and emotion are the focus of the story despite the fact that a virus sets everything in motion. After the journey begins, BluStar takes a back seat.
A story this clean and streamlined is refreshing. It's got an intriguing concept, good pacing, tight writing and engaging characters with voices all their own.
Nadia is frightened but unwavering in her quest to reach West Virginia, even though there's a chance there may be no one there to greet her and her brother. Rabbit doesn't have the luxury of being an 11-year-old boy and rises to the challenge; however, Kizer drops the occasional reminder that he's just a kid. Then there's Zack, a would-be delinquent L.A. street kid who's managed to put his less than savory skills to use for survival. The unlikely trio compliments each other incredibly well.
I was also happy to see that plot and the interaction between characters were the thrust of the book. No zombies showed up, there's no love triangle to cause problems and suspension of disbelief wasn't an issue because I didn't feel like any aspect of the story was overblown or unbelievable. For example, Nadia, Rabbit and Zack don't conveniently find a car whenever they need one. On more than one occasion they have to walk or find alternate transportation.
The trio meets a wide range of people along the way - both good and bad - and even picks up a dog and a bird they nurse back to health. They are witnesses to the kindness that endures and victims of the corruption and outlaw culture of their new world, showcasing the best and worst of human nature. One scene with an older man who shares his story and asks them to deliver word to his sister that he survived even got me choked up.
Given my rough history with post-apocalyptic fiction, I was afraid A Matter of Days might fall into the "enjoyable, but average" category. The truth is this novel impressed me in ways I didn't l know I needed to be impressed, namely making regular people shaped by tragedy and desperation the heroes, the victims and the villains of the same tale. It reminded me that telling a good story doesn't always mean telling a complicated one.