Long-listed for the National Book Award, All the Wind in the World is certainly a compelling addition to the Young Adult section of your local bookstore. Although distinctly dystopian, being set in some environmentally destroyed future of North America, the novel also artfully engages with romance and realistic fiction genres to create a gritty, survivalist take on the Bonnie and Clyde narrative. It explores how love functions in harsh environments, as well as how identity evolves when faced with increasingly challenging decisions. Overall, it’s a contemplative and at times shockingly dark novel, but is nevertheless very well-crafted and worth a read.
Mabry’s novel is told through the eyes of Sarah Jac Crow, a young teenager who has been working and traveling through maguey (agave) plantations throughout the Southwest with her romantic partner James Holt, trying to save enough to escape the harsh desert life for the East Coast. Pretending to be cousins, the two work to con fellow plantation workers out of a little cash, always creating new schemes and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. However, their lifestyle and future plans are threatened after an accident leaves them on the run. They find a semi-haven at the Real Marvelous plantation, but matters quickly go awry. Entangled in the affairs of the superstitious workers, who believe the plantation to be cursed, and of the plantation owners, whose wealth promises a life they can’t even imagine, Sarah Jac and James must put their love to the test and learn what it truly means to live in a wasteland.
A clear allegory for Southwestern plantation workers today, as well as a warning against current climate change, the novel does not shy away from the grim and horrifying. The characters are flawed, the setting is bleak, and there is no promise of a real happy ending. Moreover, author Samantha Mabry’s excellent writing is put to use to capture the bleakness of desert life, and the reader is never allowed relief or a look away from such harrowing images. Given this, the novel is not something to read to feel good, nor will it likely serve as a pick-me-up or escapist fantasy. However, it is important because it is precisely not that. It forces the reader to see what environmental disasters could lead to, and how they hurt those who are already disenfranchised or oppressed the most. It also offers a more mature, nuanced experience of romance, that also realistically captures the dynamics of teenagers trying to understand love and their own emotions. Therefore, I recommend this novel to older readers who are ready to deal with harsher content (think similar to the Hunger Games Trilogy, Gathering Blue, or House of the Scorpion).