“That the beginning and the end may have been chosen for us, the string already spun, but the middle had always been left undetermined, to be woven and shaped by us.”
One day, everyone in the world wakes up to a strange box on their doorsteps. Everyone from high rise apartment owners to desert tent dwellers. On the box is an inscription – the measure of your life lies within. Inside the box lies a string that has been determined to show you exactly how long you’ll live. Everybody is swept into frenzy. People are scared. Some people open theirs and some people choose not to. No one under 22 gets the box but as soon as you turn 22 a box appears on your doorstep telling you exactly how long you have to live. No one knows where this box comes from. No one knows who left them. As society tries to pull together and grapple with this new way of living, people are left with a choice – to open or not to open? Would you want to know exactly when you’ll die? What would you do with that knowledge? Erlick charts this new world through the eyes of 8 different characters grappling with different choices and trying to navigate this new reality.
“We humans have an impulse to mark our existence in some way that feels permanent. We scribble ‘I was here’ onto our desks at school. We spray paint it on walls. We carve it into bark. I was here. I wanted this sculpture to do to the same, to let it be know that these people lived. A testament to the fact that these humans — with their long strings and medium strings and short strings — they were here.”
I don’t remember when I first heard about this book but I’ve had it in my library holds since last year and every time it would check out to me, I’d send it back. I guess it finally checked out to me at the perfect time because I loved reading this one. First of all, what an amazing premise! And what a way to think this all the way through. The author takes this and just runs with it, how would this work in politics? in romance? in friendships? between parents and kids? Yes, the results aren’t unpredictable but they are all so well thought out. Where this book really shines is in its characters. This is purely a character driven novel. The plot moves as the characters learn to live with their new reality and figure out a way to make the best out of what life has given them. From a no name politician who after opening his box and seeing a long string decides to use it to make himself into a political star, an architect who after being forced to open his box is left single and alone to sort out the unfairness of the number of years given to him, a school teacher who decides not to open her box and her sister who grapples with the reality of loving a partner who you know exactly when she’ll die.
“I watched a lot of people come to the end, and everyone around them kept begging them to fight. It takes real strength to keep on fight, and yes, usually that’s the right answer. Keep fighting, keep holding on, no matter what. But sometimes I think we forget that it also takes strength to be able to let go.”
This is a debut novel and I grade all debut novels on a curve. I think this is a FANTASTIC novel and made me feel a lot of emotions but it did get heavy handed sometimes. Sometimes Erlick couldn’t leave well enough alone, she wanted to make sure her audience was picking up everything she was putting down and sometimes you should just let your plot breathe. The everlasting optimism and hope while everything was going on in this book might come off as heartwarming to a lot of people but to me it came off as naive. If I had written this book it would have been completely fatalistic at least for a whole generation but Erlick chose to see humans as a much better species than I do.
“Maybe the boxes are like that, too. Nobody can offer any foolproof explanation for them, so they just end up meaning whatever we want them to mean — whether that’s God or fate or magic. And no matter how long your string is, that, too, can mean whatever you want it to — a license to behave however you want, to stop dieting, to seek revenge, to quit your job, to take a risk, to travel the world.”
I loved this book and I gave it 5 stars but if you do not like character driven novels, you will not like this book. If you need to know why the boxes appeared and why, this book will not work for you because it is not the point of the book. It’s never explored or determined why or where the boxes came from. This is purely speculative fiction. Realistically, this is a 4 star book but a debut novel deserves that round up. Plus it made me cry and I asked all my friends including Tayne what they would do if they got this kind of box. Would they choose to open it or not? So I’m asking whoever is reading this, if you got a box that contained how many years you have left on earth, would you or would you not open it?