I pulled on the latex gloves and went over to my office, built into the eaves off the bedroom. My planning board caught my eyes. A mood board of photos and color swatches and pencil sketches from a year’s worth of business trips to Denmark and China with – in pride of place in the center of this thought cloud – a snapshot of me next to the design world’s Next Big Thing, my smile so wide with relief I looked like I was about to eat him. Beside that, a single photocopied page with a red circle around his signature on a contract naming me the exclusive supplier of his over-hyped, overpriced furniture to the overexcited consumers of Britain. A year of courting and kowtowing signed into cold, hard cash just last week. The press release from my PR agency still lay in the printer tray, livid with the red-penned changes that made up my final approval. Still, with no electricity and no computers, I had no online store to worry about. None of it mattered. None of it even existed. Like the proverbial unseen tree in the forest, my life’s work had fallen without making a sound.
–All the Little Children by Jo Furniss
All the Little Children by Jo Furniss
All the Little Children is an apocalyptic novel about Marlene Green, a woman who has lived her life as international businesswoman first and mother second. During a rare camping trip with her children and her sister-in-law, a mysterious illness sweeps through the British Isles, killing most of the population. Away from civilization, Marlene and her family do not even know what happened until they try to return to a nearby town, and then London, and find buildings and cars abandoned, other than the rotting bodies that have been left behind. Finding themselves practically alone in English countryside, Marlene and her sister-in-law Joni must figure out how to keep alive not only themselves, but also a growing crowd of abandoned children they find throughout the country.
First of all, I have read plenty of apocalyptic novels that deal with heavy topics, but this novel was shockingly dark. When I read the description, I had imagined a nice novel about a woman who comes to terms with her own motherhood, and adopts a bunch of new children. That is not where this novel goes. It certainly does have sentimental moments in it, but there is a good deal of graphic death in this. I thought it worked quite well for the plot, but it certainly surprised me – and with a baby and a 5 year old daughter, I’m still a little sensitive to that bit.
My absolute favorite part of All the Little Children was Marlene as a character. Many novels gloss over the gritty details of characters, even their main characters, but I felt as though I knew Marlene as well as I know myself. We see Marlene exactly as she is – we hear her thoughts when she’s impatient and frustrated with her children, we see all the aggression she acts out at her family, and the other children, we even see the collapse of her career through her eyes, as she realizes that everything she worked towards is destroyed with the virus. Marlene is not exactly a likable character, but I also did not feel like she was particularly unlikable. Instead, reading All the Little Children felt like looking at all my worst traits, especially as a mother. It made me more aware of how I am sometimes impatient and rude to my own children, and while the novel did offer a better option, it also showed Marlene’s ultimate ability to forgive herself for her failings, and I think that was what made her such a satisfying character.
I was rather conflicted about the world-building in this one. I live in the US and have never traveled to England, and so I was curious to see how something like an apocalypse would seem different in England versus in America. While there were some interesting landscapes for Marlene to navigate (farmland, an old manor, and an interesting mine), I did wish there was more that felt distinctly English. The author has lived in four different countries, and has a much wider experience of the world than I do, and so I wondered why she chose England specifically for the action (other than the obvious answer that is offered in the narrative). I also felt like we never really learn enough about the virus to understand how the decimation happens, and while I respect that the main character was necessarily limited in her knowledge of the virus, I still wish the author had found a way to better elaborate on how it was started, how it spread, etc.
In all, I would rate All The Little Children a 7 out of 10. There was a lot that I liked about it, (especially that great character development!) but the disease felt under-explained, and the ending didn’t pack enough of a punch to push this to an 8. Still, I would recommend it for anyone looking for a sci-fi that’s a little different from others that are currently out there, and I think new parents that can stomach some violent child deaths would really enjoy how Marlene was developed as a mother.