Review: How to Pack for the End of the World
How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkoff
How to pack for the end of the world belongs to the genre of YA literature in which a group of dysfunctional young people bond together for support. Amina’s anxiety spins out of control after her family’s synagogue is firebombed. Her parents send her to the prestigious Gardner Academy in hopes that the change of scenery will help her. At the newcomers get-together the evening of her arrival the question is asked, “If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, would you rather die along with your friends and family and everyone you’ve ever known, or live among strangers to rebuild civilization?” The is the basis for the group Amina joins the very next night. They create a game through which they struggle to learn survival skills. This pursuit is interrupted by the usual high school dramas, especially of relationships, family, and with a mystery added as each member of the group is in some way attacked. The story is engaging, and appropriate for the age group in style and vocabulary. The fact that Amina tells the story gives it an interesting perspective different from that of others or an omnipotent narrator. The characters grow though the course of the year, partly by way of the game. The conclusion, which finds them in charge of the following year’s newcomers night, shows how a new perspective has been brought to the original question.
This book clearly has Jewish content. The storyteller is Jewish, her father is Israeli. Her anxiety about the world becomes obsessive as a result of the firebombing of the synagogue to which her family belongs, shortly after her mother left a meeting there. When she gets to the Gardner Academy, she joins Hillel and spends Friday nights there. She takes one of her friends home for winter vacation, telling her explicitly that Christmas is not celebrated in her home. Certainly the social justice questions are an important part of the story. Also a part of the story is a wealthy WASP from Texas, young woman with a Korean parent, and a young man with a black parent. The question of the sexual orientation of one of the members of the group is questioned. The diversity of the group covers many bases. Is Amina’s Jewishness just another strand? Spoiler alert – neither of the young men in the group are Jewish, and she goes from having a crush on one to getting together with the other. She does take the young man to Hillel with her, because he is interested, and “if only to understand me better.” but no other comment is made. The fact that he is not Jewish is not an issue to Amina or to her parents. As the story is laid out, it is not a problem. In this reviewer's opinion, this may disqualify the book for the Sydney Taylor Award.
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