The Survival Game, by Nicky Singer. Young Adults
Teen fiction today seems to centre on stories with a Dystopian theme; young people battling to survive as best they can in an alien, futuristic and brutal society: Nicky Singer’s novel is no different – except that it reflects a world situation that is all too real for us all: global warming and its terrible consequences.
Mhairi Anne Bain is fourteen years old. She is walking in the North of England, hoping to reach the Scottish border, where she will seek shelter with her grandmother who lives on the Isle of Arran. Mhairi has undergone unimaginable suffering to have reached this stage of the journey: her parents had spent seven years working in the Sudan before they were both murdered by trigger-happy border guards; she was lucky enough to escape. She was not pursued by the border guards – why bother? The desert would kill her anyway. Except that it didn’t: she has survived so far – but is infuriated to find herself being followed by an old man and a little boy. She doesn’t need company: she moves very quickly by herself, but when the old man falls dead at her feet and the little boy stubbornly follows her regardless of all her clever attempts to shake him off, she accepts the inevitable: he has become her responsibility, whether she likes it or not.
The little boy is brown-skinned and from somewhere on the African continent; he is also mute – but not deaf, or so traumatised that he is an impossible burden, but it is obvious that he has suffered terribly, as Mhairi finds when they reach Glasgow, which is full of refugees just like him. He searches all those half-starved faces for a familiar one, only to be heartbreakingly disappointed. And the tragedy of all those waves of people heading north is that their own countries are no longer habitable: global warming has turned their lush tropical lands into sand and dust. They must all move to the colder regions or die.
Mhairi finds too that, after seven years away from her beloved Scotland savage new laws are now in place to conserve and protect the scarce remaining resources – and to protect the rights of the white celtic indigenous population against the ‘predations’ and sheer numbers of desperate migrants. Compassion has flown out the window, especially from her grandmother, so happy to see her initially – until she arrived with the little brown mute.
Nicky Singer has written a story that is beautiful and terrible, a story that fills us equally with hope and despair, for no-one can deny the frightening existence of climate change or be afraid of its consequences, portrayed so ably in this unforgettable book. Everyone should read this. SIX STARS.