Though it took me longer to read than a book typically would thanks to the constant interruption of a 4-year-old, I thoroughly enjoyed London Shah’s “The Light at the Bottom of the World”.
Leyla McQueen is a sixteen-year-old submersible racer living in the ruins of London, which was “lost” beneath the sea after climate change and an apocalyptic level asteroid strike destroyed the world above the sea, causing massive tidal waves and global flooding and forcing humans beneath the waves to survive. Living independently after the death of her mother and the wrongful arrest of her father, Leyla is offered the opportunity to race in the city’s annual submersible marathon. If she wins, Leyla would be able to ask for “the Ultimate Prize”, which for her would be the release of her father from whatever prison he’s being held in.
When the race takes a surprising turn, Leyla finds herself in deeper water than she could have fathomed: facing a corrupt government, finding the truth about what has happened to her father, and having her previously black and white world turned upside down.
Shah’s writing is engaging and deep. She doesn’t pull punches and lets her characters face dark truths in a young YA appropriate way. The character of Leyla feels appropriately “teen” and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, which is hopefully in the works. *crosses fingers*
- There are a LOT of side stories in the novel, to the point where following/tracking all of them becomes a little tricky. I realize that Shah is world building in this premier novel, which lends itself to some amount of exposition throughout the book, but I think some of the side stories could have been eliminated.
- Teenage girls and emotions, man. I get it – possible love interest, angst, the whole deal – is usually a turn on for YA readers. As an adult reading YA, sometimes I’d love to do without it. The way Shah’s Leyla suddenly develops feelings for a boy isn’t my cup of tea, but I get why she wrote it the way she did.
- There’s a prologue that’s important but nearly forgotten because it takes awhile for us to understand why it’s important in the course of the story. Prologue is page one, revelation of why it’s important isn’t until after page 200. I wish the revelation would have come sooner so I didn’t almost forget the prologue AND my #2 defect about how quickly feelings for a boy develop would have had more time to be explored in the book.
- Shah’s universe is delightfully diverse. Her main character is a practicing Muslim of Middle Eastern descent (though born in the underwater world). Shah doesn’t shy away from Leyla reading the Koran, using Arabic phrases, and having her pray. I can appreciate that in a world where religion could so easily be done away with due to the post-apocalyptic nature of the story, Shah allows it to thrive and be somewhat integral to the main character (and even be a discussion point later in the story).
- The story is FAST PACED. There isn’t a lot of “down time” for the reader and exposition is handled throughout the novel instead of concentrated too heavily at the beginning. This book will instantly engage readers and I wouldn’t have to tell someone to “give it at least 50 pages”. By page 50, we’ve already lived an epic battle of a prologue, a fast paced, “illegal” race through the city of London, and nearing the start of the marathon.
- The underwater twist to a post-apocalyptic world isn’t something I’ve read recently and Shah does it very well. I appreciate the diversity of ocean life and the real “fear of the abyss” that works itself into the novel. It has a similar eeriness to deep space novels that I’ve read and the crushing depth of the water really plays with the main character’s head and heart.
Overall, this novel gets 4 out of 5 stars of approval from me and is something I’d easily recommend to my students grades 7 and up.
2 thoughts on “FIC SHA (Reviewing “The Light at the Bottom of the World”)”
I love how you outlined the pros and cons, gave it an overall rating, and told what audience a person might target it towards! Also, “finds herself in deeper water than she could have fathomed,” hehehe!
I love how you 1) outlined the pros and cons, 2) gave it an overall rating, and 3) told what audience a person might target it towards! Also, “finds herself in deeper water than she could have fathomed,” hehehe!