The Survival Game by Nicky Singer

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The Survival Game by Nicky Singer

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Searingly beautiful but deeply sad story set in a climate-ravaged dystopian future. Mhairi is determined to make it home to the Isle of Arran and can't afford baggage - but a silent little boy changes all that.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: July 2018
Publisher: Hodder
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444944525

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Mhairi Anne Bain is fourteen years old and is on her way home to the Isle of Arran. But Mhairi's world has been ravaged by climate change and the mass movement of people and it is one defined by borders, checkpoints and soldiers with guns. Mhairi has made it across Africa and onto a plane to Heathrow - which is more than can be said for Muma and Papa. She's even made it out of the detention centre at the airport. And during this journey, Mhairi has learned that you can't rely on anyone else and you can't allow anyone else to rely on you...

... but something about the mute boy with the beautiful eyes changes all this and Mhairi finds herself, against all her better instincts, risking everything to get the boy, as well as herself, to safety.

Mhairi has a CASTLE. It's the place in her mind in which she is able to lock away anything too painful to remember and Mhairi's first person narration teases the reader - In the days before the desert, before the soldiers, before... CASTLE or Ten-year-old Muhammad made that mistake and it did not end well. It ended in... CASTLE. And much of Mhairi's journey is about making it through the day without processing this trauma. But of course, the trauma will out and when it does, Mhairi makes a decision that will define her and shock everyone else.

My word, but The Survival Game is a powerful story. It's searingly beautiful but both terrifying and deeply sad. Nicky Singer writes with lyricism of Mo's deep-as-cup eyes and the different sorts of time - especially Arrested Time, when you see somebody falling after they've been shot but you never see them die. And there is a scene in which Mhairi comes across a meadow of wild garlic, eats some bulbs and smells some leaves, and is so replete and entranced she finds herself able to fall asleep without fear. It's as unforgettable a scene as any of the distressing ones - and I warn you now, there are many distressing scenes.

But The Survival Game isn't just beautifully written, although it is beautifully written - it's raw and energetic, lyrical and beautiful, intense and passionate. It also asks important questions and requires the reader to interrogate her or himself. What would I do if I was alone and desperate and friendless and I had to make it to my destination or die? Would I help another? Would I share resources? Would I even care about anyone else? And there are wider questions too - the refugee crisis is already weakening international alliances and igniting angry public opinion. What will happen when climate change exacerbates it? Will countries institute population control measures? Will borders stay as they are?

The Survival Game asks all these questions and more and presents them through the voice of Mhairi, a character you'll never forget. This one will win awards, you can be sure about that. It's an absolute tour de force.

Winter Damage by Natasha Carthew also tells the story of a dangerous journey in a dystopian near future Britain. Exodus by Julie Bertagna is set in a world flooded by melting polar ice caps and its leading character, Mara, is as unforgettable as Mhairi Bain. The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd is not as terrifying as The Survival Game but talks about life in a future Britain under carbon rationing.

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Buy The Survival Game by Nicky Singer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Survival Game by Nicky Singer at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Survival Game by Nicky Singer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Survival Game by Nicky Singer at


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