Cover of Any SIgn of Life by Rae Carson. A girl and a dog walk through an abandoned neighborhood, surrounded by flocks of crows.

About the Book

Title: Any Sign of Life
Published: 2021

Cover Story: Crow Bar
Drinking Buddy: Warm, Bottled Beer
MPAA Rating: R (Gore, science fiction violence, sexuality)
Talky Talk: A Boy and His Girl and Her Dog
Bonus Factors: The Fetishization of Other Races
Bromance Status: Brave New World

Cover Story: Crow Bar

There’s something very ominous about big flocks of silent birds, as Hitchcock reminded us. The slash through the O is significant to the plot.

The Deal:

High school basketball champion Paige Miller was coming down with the flu, so she decided to take a nap before practice that night. She slept for a solid week, and when she woke up, her mother, stepfather, and brother were all dead from a mysterious disease. And her neighbors. And…possibly everyone else on earth. Accompanied by her neighbor’s dog Emmaline, Paige goes searching for any survivors.

Soon, she finds a couple of humans: hunky, intelligent Trey, and a sullen, angry girl named Tanq. Weird radio broadcasts indicate there’s two guys named Manny and Wyatt in Sandusky, where the trio decides to head. But now that humans are an endangered species, can they even survive the trip?

What’s more, this super flu didn’t start somewhere and spread. It developed all over the world, overnight. This wasn’t an accident. Something wanted humanity to die, and maybe they don’t want to leave any survivors.

Drinking Buddy: Warm, Bottled Beer

Two pints of beer cheersing

So Paige was just kind of a middle class girl with real athletic talent, and family and friends that she loved and could depend on. Now her neighborhood is filled with rotting corpses and it’s likely there are fewer than a thousand people left on earth. She’s one broken ankle away from a slow death. Can she go on?

Yes. Teaming up with other hard-headed survivors, she does what it takes to survive. She says goodbye to her family, then opens her house’s windows to allow the crows to do some natural recycling. She uses her dog to keep her sanity. She tries to leave behind the hate and bigotry that characterized mankind. Maybe there’s a new world coming. If they can all survive the next year.

MPAA Rating: R (Gore, science fiction violence, sexuality)

So when eight billion people drop dead in a week, many of them cut down in the midst of their day-to-day activities, they’re going to leave a lot of meat behind. Paige and her friends are horrified at the amount of human carrion being devoured by coyotes, birds, and maggots. And it’s late winter. Once it gets hot…

Plus now that society has collapsed, the animals are emboldened. Birds and domesticated dogs have turned on the humans. There are guns to be found everywhere, but no one in the trio is familiar with their use. Paige is still recovering from her coma (she only survived because her mother, a nurse, hooked her up to several IVs before succumbing). Paige barely makes it out alive when the sewers in her neighborhood explode when the now stagnant gas ignites.

Paige and Trey, who once had bright futures ahead of them as college athletes, are now battling an earth that’s ready to destroy them. But Tanq had a rough bringing up and Paige and Trey weren’t exactly coddled. Maybe, just maybe, they can do this.

Talky Talk: A Boy and His Girl and Her Dog

The complete loss of one’s family would be absolutely scarring to someone, but Paige doesn’t have the luxury of owning her feelings. It’s very obvious that taking care of Emmaline the dog is all that’s keeping her together at times. But there’s a chance to rebuilt society, and these kids are going to give it their best.

That being said, there were a lot of unbelievable things in this book. When they finally meet Manny and Wyatt, they’re given an explanation as to what killed off humanity. The explanation was believable. But they’re also told why they, of all people, survived. That part was pretty hard to swallow (though I dug the subtle anti-45 jokes).

Also, four kids using a tugboat to maneuver coal laden barges? Only experienced sailors could manage something like that. And using lighter fluid and propane tanks from an outdoors store to detonate the barges? Yeah. Not buying it.

Bonus Factors: The Fetishization of Other Races

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

Paige’s best friend Shawntelle (RIP) warned her that white women tend to fetishize Black men, and that she should stick to her own lane. Paige sees the sense in this. We’re all guilty of seeing people different from us as exotic, new, and sexy. But, well, Trey is Black. And athletic. And really smart. And built. And practically the last man on earth. I think Shawntelle would give her a pass.

It’s funny how with fewer than half a dozen humans in Ohio, they still manage to bring some of the old garbage into the new reality. Wyatt comments on how brainy Trey ‘doesn’t talk like a Black person.’ Later, the pair nearly come to blows: not over racial matters, but over football teams. Paige and Trey bicker about basketball vs. football. And poor Wyatt, a nerdy survivalist, can finally say ‘Hey, I am the last man on earth,’…and Tanq is asexual.

Bromance Status: Brave New World

I’m not sure if science fiction is this author’s jam. I hope she gives contemporary fiction a shot some time.

Literary Matchmaking

The Rule of Three (The Rule of Three #1)

Eric Walter’s The Rule of Three also deals with the end of society as we know it.

Firebrand (Elemental #2)

As does Antony John’s Firebrand.

Killer of Enemies

Or Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor canned food for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.