"You can't imagine how much the world can change in six months." Oh, but yes we can! With remarkable prescience, Lauren Beukes's Afterland takes on an "unprecedented global pandemic" with chilling results--and surprising comic relief threaded throughout. Six years after the success of Broken Monsters, the South African author sets another disturbing novel in the U.S., creating an epic odyssey of a mother's determination to save her tween son. Their worst threat to safety, alas, is her own sister.

It's 2023, three years since the Human Culgoa Virus, "a highly contagious flu that turns into an aggressive prostate cancer in men and boys," ravaged the world. Twelve-year-old Miles is one of a dwindling set of survivors. Back when life was normal, Miles and his parents, Cole and Devon, flew from their Johannesburg home to spend a Disneyland vacation with relatives. Four months later, cousin Jay is dead. Then Uncle Eric, father Devon. Billions fall. In the government's effort to protect survivors and their immediate families, Miles and Cole end up in California's Ataraxia, "the fanciest prison in the world." Cole just wants to go home to South Africa. When Cole's sister, Billie, arrives, they hatch a plan to break out.

Their success is tempered when Billie reveals the contemptible reason for her ready assistance: harvesting Miles's sperm for black-market riches. Cole's reaction is to swing a tire iron at Billie, and then grab Miles to take to the road. Miles must become Mila for the two years on a cat-and-mice chase across the U.S. that offers titillating thrills, schadenfreude and, most surprisingly (and necessarily), even a few take-me-away snorts and shrieks. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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