Reviewed by Meghan Vermeer
Have you ever read a novel that feels so similar to, yet wildly different from the real issues of the world? Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam tells the tale of an apocalyptic event, but the parallels of uncertainty between it and the atmosphere of 2020 are remarkably similar.
Leave the World Behind follows a family of four as they take a vacation to a rental house out in the middle of nowhere. The vacation rental claims that visitors will “leave the world behind” in a beautiful, secluded place—hence, the title of the book. Unfortunately for the vacationing family, the owners of the rental show up, claiming that strange things have been happening in the world and asking to stay in the house with the family. I don’t know about you, but I would feel pretty uncomfortable staying in a house that wasn’t mine with a complete stranger! This becomes one of the issues of the novel—can the two different families trust one another? The other primary conflict is that there has been some sort of mysterious power outage and other strange happenings, but of course, the house is so secluded that information isn’t always easy to get. How does one react when information is limited, strangers become closer than expected, and the world is suddenly uncertain?
The biggest theme in the novel is fear: fear of others, fear of the unknown, fear of strange and unexplained circumstances. The characters must each cope in their own ways, and the omniscient perspective from which Alam writes allows readers to get into the mindset of each character as they tackle various events.
Another theme that appears several times is parenthood. In the vacationing family, the parents worry constantly about their children. They often think about the past and how their children have grown up through the years. Alam also discusses the desperation that parents can feel when their child is in danger.
This book is definitely a post-apocalyptic style novel, and there are so many similar options available, especially in young adult literature. Specifically, I’m thinking of the ever popular Hunger Games and Divergent series. For a more adult version, consider reading Bird Box by Josh Malerman. If you like that novel, it has even been made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock.
Leave the World Behind was a decent read. You can definitely tell that it was written in 2020, a year plagued with uncertainties. It was also interesting to me that some phrases, previously unheard of, came up in the novel—especially phrases like “unprecedented times.” The characters were also well-developed. I found myself thinking of the characters as actual people, which is exactly what you want when reading a novel! One thing that I was a little uncertain about was the amount that the characters thought about and engaged in sex. Especially for the younger readers here, the language and description could sometimes be a bit much.
If you are into apocalyptic novels, you might enjoy this one. It brings up new ideas about how things might go wrong in the world that I had never considered before. While this book certainly was not one of my own personal favorites, I think it definitely could be one of yours if you enjoy this type of topic.
Leave the World Behind was one that stuck with me for several days after finishing it, which is always a good indicator of a solid book. Its apocalyptic style and themes of parenting had me hooked until the very end, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it my new favorite book. Give it a shot, though—you might like it more than you think!