“Heathens” by Jonah Bergan
Author: Jonah Bergan
Genre: YA Gay Science Fiction
Well it finally happened. The world ended. It didn’t happen the way anyone expected it would. No nukes, no pandemics, just a whole lot of rage and a whole lot of violence. None of us saw it coming. There were plenty of clues, but none of us figured it out in time. The real kicker is, I’m pretty sure someone planned it. I’m pretty sure someone did it on purpose.
I’m Holden. I survived. You won’t like my story. That’s too bad, because your world’s headed the same way as mine. Everything that happened to me, is going to happen to you. The same kind of people that did this to me, will do it to you. They’re doing it right now. They’re making it worse and you don’t even see it. Sure, I could help you. I could give it a try, but you won’t listen. I’m not the same religion. I’m not the same as you. I’m a different kind than you, so you won’t listen. That’s why it’ll happen to you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Don’t say you didn’t have a clue. Not when all you had to do was listen.
Heathens is a young adult post apocalyptic science fiction novel. Heathens contains some coarse language and violence.
Can One Angry Boy Save the World?
The first thing that struck me about this piece wasn’t the devastating post-apocalyptic world or the thrilling paranormal elements, it was the compelling voice of our protagonist, Holden. He’s an angry kid who has had a crap-ton of injustices and horrors committed to him and to those he loves.
In Holden’s world, some people are born with psychic powers, or ‘talents’. From the moment these talents are discovered on Earth, it didn’t take very long for those without powers to push away those with powers, until a full out civil war develops. Holden was one of those people born with powers. His was telekinesis.
Holden’s story starts with the death of his lover. I’m unsure if his lover had a talent or was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it got to the point in the civil war where ‘normal’ families were abandoning their own children with talents to leave them the other side of the war zone, and otherwise good people were being murdered on both sides.
The harsh environment created hard folks and Holden is no exception. He pretty much lives and breathes to beat the crap out of all the normals, who he blames for everything. In fact, he blames us–the reader. The narration is told as he if he is speaking to us, possibly explaining to a future version of us what happened at the start of the civil war. It’s oddly refreshing being told you’re absolute garbage by a punk-ass teenager (who is correct in his accusations but maybe not his methods).
To further his ultimate goals of becoming the scourge to all normals everywhere, Holden hooks up with a terrorist gang.
The question at the end of the blurb, ‘Can one angry boy save the world?’ isn’t what I would consider the burning question of the piece. By the end of the story, I wasn’t sure what Holden was going to do, besides tell his story… which he was already telling us. However, I did feel Holden made significant gains in his personal growth, from vengeful killer to story-teller. The ending was subtle in a literary fiction way, which was surprising considering how Holden reacted to everything: with traumatic blunt force. The way he rambled was juvenile at times, but he’s still just a kid. What was important was to see him change from being someone to expresses himself with physical violence to someone who can articulate the need for change with his words.
That was probably my favorite part of the entire piece.
My least favorite parts were the flashbacks. We were in the present and then through a large chunk of the book we flashed back to the start of the war, several years earlier. At one point, because the times periods were so close and Holden is roughly the same age, I forgot when we were. Although it may have been nice for some to see how Holden–the killer–developed, I didn’t think it was necessary. I felt the journey was more about where he was going and less about what made him what he was.
If you enjoy more literary science fiction on the YA spectrum, I’d give this a go.
This review was originally posted to Queer Sci Fi.