Diane Cook’s dystopian novel has trail blazed its own genre that is becoming increasingly relevant in our daily lives: climate change fiction, or cli-fi. With carbon emissions becoming a global problem as well as the diminishing presence of nonrenewable energy, the plot Cook develops serves as a demonstration of the potential future state of our global society if steps are not taken toward sustainability and environmentalism. Cook presents the difference between the cleanliness and raw purity of nature juxtaposed with the apparent “cleanliness” of urbanization, which is inherently false.
While the human environment created in urban areas may be clean and comfortable for the humans themselves, the environment has to suffer as a result. In a more nomadic state living off of the land, however, the environment and mankind coexist as one, grappling against one another in the everlasting battle for survival. Agnes and Bea, two of the plot’s protagonists, fled the city in Agnes’s childhood because she became extremely sick due to the poor air quality and environmental conditions in the city. The reader later learns that she is not an anomaly. When Bea returns to the city to take care of her Mother’s estate after her death, she learns of other children who take ill as Bea did when she was a child, and that the numbers of similar instances such as these are becoming more common, with many of them ending in death.
While some may scoff at the prospect of people taking sick due to poor air quality, Cook presents us with a future that is not so distant. The Community of those who live in the Wilderness may experience the hardships of a more labor-intensive life, but they experience the raw purity of nature rather than the false cleanliness presented in domesticated life. By no means is this a call to return to a nomadic state of life, but rather an opportunity for humans to recognize the cost of innovation. Eventually, the capacity of innovation will exceed the abilities of humankind and the planet to capture it and use it as a force for good. Our climate is one of the most authentic things that encompasses all humans, and Cook’s presentation of two extreme circumstances: untamed but environmentally untethered versus falsely sanitized but comfortable illustrates how far humanity has come in the last millennium and how we will sustain our planet for the next.