Sixteen year old Molly has been raised on an island in British Columbia, shielded from the troubles that have plagued the big cities since the Collapse of '31. She's better off there, living off the land, than in the dangerous, desperate world outside.
But then news reaches Molly's family that her grandmother may have died. Molly's mother is worried that her estranged father is down in Oregon all alone, so she asks Molly to embark on a dangerous journey into post-Collapse America to bring him home to them. A difficult mission for any sixteen year old, but in 2041 it might just be impossible...
In Restoring Harmony Joëlle Anthony has created a world that reminds us just how fragile our high tech, high maintenance lives really are. All it takes is the oil to run out, and our society is on the verge of the same kind of collapse that main character Molly's went through in 2031. Without our cars and delivery trucks and plane travel, where are we? The answer, according to Restoring Harmony, is that we're exactly where we were before we had these things, and at first glance it's not pretty. Worst (or perhaps best) of all, it's an incredibly plausible situation, with that 'this could really happen' quality that makes post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels as terrifying as they are addictive.
Calling to mind the America of the Great Depression, Molly's world is an unusual one for this type of story. It's rife with organised crime, black market trading, and corrupt authorities. It's a strange hyrid of the old and the new, this world where the country's bridges fall from disrepair but gangsters have the option to password protect their souped up weapons. It's a surprisngly Al Capone take on a dystopian society, but somehow it just works.
As a protagonist, Molly is as likeable as she is plucky. It's especially intriguing to accompany such an unworldly character into a landscape like post-Collapse America - her mistakes are ones her street-wise readers probably wouldn't make, but her triumphs are totally the product of her island upbringing. Her love of the violin is an integral part of her character, and makes for some of the story's most moving moments as Molly establishes a bond with her piano-playing grandfather and tries to convince him to come back to Canada with her. She's also got her own brand of smarts, making her the kind of heroine you can't help crossing your fingers for.
At the heart of Restoring Harmony, there's also love. Against the backdrop of desperate times, the chemistry between Molly and the mysterious Spill is fragile but sweet. It's the kind of romance that creeps up on the reader as much as the characters. It feels honest and inevitable, as though the author has created two living, breathing characters who then fall in love of their own accord. As dystopian fiction goes, I don't often have call to describe a novel as uplifting - but ultimately that's exactly what this one is.
Restoring Harmony is a dystopia with heart. This means that while there's plenty to enthrall hardcore fans of the genre, newcomers to dystopia will find also it accessible and reader-friendly. It's an epic story of family, courage and a classic Studebaker. If you're looking for a page-turner with bags of charm, look no further. This one's the real deal.
Out: May 13th, 2010, US.
Many thanks to Joëlle Anthony for lending me an ARC of her fantastic debut novel.