“You know when you worry about everything all the time? Sometimes it turns out that it’s the thing you haven’t bothered to think about – the thing that’s too outlandish, even for you – that turns out to be the one thing that’s going to get you.”
As a disclaimer, I don’t usually read thrillers, because I’m both easily spooked and prone to getting so invested/stressed out by what I’m reading that I have to physically put the book down before I have a heart attack. Things to Do Before the End of the World was one such thriller, but MAN am I glad I read it, because WHAT. A. BOOK. I defy anyone to not be at least a bit freaked by the end – I finished it about a week ago, and I’ve been thinking about it almost non-stop since then.
I’m not exaggerating when I say Emily Barr’s writing gets under your skin in this book. In Things to Do, an environmental catastrophe nicknamed ‘the Creep’ is imminent; the air on planet Earth will become unbreathable, and all life on the planet will suffocate. Humanity is given less than a year to live. It’s perhaps easier than usual to picture what this catastrophe could look like in real life, given the year we’ve had, but even this scale of terminal judgement is difficult to imagine. Barr paints an eerily convincing picture of this future that is fascinating in a very morbid way. Often the best part of a dystopian book is the way the author sets up and describes the nature of the dystopia and how it came about, but here, the Creep is simply a backdrop to a bigger picture and a dramatic plotline. Having said this, though, it’s constantly present and cannot be ignored; if anything, the further through the book you get, the more the Creep weighs on you as it begins to inch closer. As the world heats up in the book, so does the tension, to the point where the atmosphere is almost cloying, but in the best possible way as far as pace goes.
The Creep provides an organic sense of foreboding throughout, so the pace constantly seems to be picking up, even when the characters are acting normally. There are so many plot threads that are foreshadowed and interspersed throughout, so by the end, my pulse was racing, my palms were sweating, and at one point, I genuinely had to put the book down and exhale slowly because I might actually pass out. This book is a self-contained, slow-building adrenaline rush, and lends itself wonderfully to binge-reading. I read it in two sittings: one substantially calmer, even when feeling slightly perturbed, and the other in a frenzy as I realised I wouldn’t be able to rest until I’d finished it.
Protagonist Olivia is down-to-Earth and relatable in her shyness. As much as she is desperate to push herself out of her comfort zone and go after the girl she likes, go to the parties everyone else her age does, etc, she still finds herself struggling and holding back. Olivia is not an extraordinarily brave person – or even overly unique in the ‘classic YA protagonist’ sense – but I don’t think she’s meant to be; she’s just someone trying to live what she believes to be the last few months of her life to the fullest. That alone makes the book hit you where it hurts, because it’s all too easy to imagine yourself in Olivia’s position. The introduction of the Creep into her life agitates her for obvious reasons, but also kickstarts a determination to push herself out of her comfort zone. Enter cousin Natasha, who appears out of the blue to help Olivia do exactly that. From this point onwards, the plot shoots off in a variety of unpredictable directions; to say more would risk dropping spoilers, but rest assured, this book is full of dramatic and emotional bombshells.
One week on from reading it, and I’ve not entirely recovered. I picked up a rom-com within minutes of finishing it as a way of calming myself down – just to give you an indication of the book’s intensity! I cannot recommend it highly enough: whether you’re a fan of realistic climate change fiction, slow-building psychological thrillers, or just want a fabulous book to binge-read under the covers with a torch at 2am (but only if you really want to creep yourself out), Things to Do Before the End of the World is an excellent read.
Things to Do Before the End of the World is available for purchase from Waterstones and other bookshops from May 13th. I would like to thank @TheWriteReads and @PenguinPlatform for the advance copy, and @TheWriteReads On Tour for including me in their blog tour.