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All the Little Children


All the Little Children

With post-apocalyptic fiction dominating the young adult book world and television shows like “The Walking Dead” and “The Last Man on Earth” earning rave reviews, it is clear that we are fascinated by watching ordinary characters navigate extraordinary --- and deadly --- worlds and situations. Set in modern-day England, Jo Furniss’ ALL THE LITTLE CHILDREN gives readers exactly that, plus a to-the-minute exploration of a realistic apocalyptic tragedy as it unfolds over the course of a week.

To say that wife and mother Marlene Greene is a workaholic is putting it mildly. Marlene works very hard to support her family, but because of her long hours, her three children are left basically motherless, and she grapples with a ton of working-mom guilt. With her marriage beginning to dissolve, Marlene decides to spend a weekend camping with her children, her son’s best friend, her sister-in-law and her niece to give her husband time to move out peacefully. As the weekend comes to a close, however, Marlene loses cell service and the novel begins to take on an eerie, suspenseful tone.

Although Furniss swiftly crafts an excellent aura of suspense, it is not yet clear that anything is truly wrong. After all, who hasn’t lost cell service on a trip? But when Marlene and the rest of her family take a drive into the nearest town for supplies, they find the small village creepily empty and devoid of all human activity, including electricity. When Marlene discovers three bodies lying outside of a pub --- with no obvious cause of death --- her survival instincts begin to kick in, and the book truly begins.

"[Furniss'] ability to tune in to the finest details of life, love and survival elevate ALL THE LITTLE CHILDREN from a generic post-apocalyptic novel to a much more powerful and realistic journey through a terrifying, yet not unbelievable, situation."

Back at camp, Marlene’s son’s friend climbs a tree and notes that there are fires everywhere as far as the eye can see. Marlene doesn’t want to worry the children, but she is torn in her role as mother and protector. Should she get her children to safety, or keep them far from whatever has killed what seems like the rest of the world? Is her sister-in-law’s life worth risking if it means saving her children? And, above all, what is she willing to do to save her children’s lives and the lives of her niece and son’s best friend?

While the group comes to the conclusion that they are safest in the woods, they often fumble when it comes to getting and preserving supplies and keeping themselves safe. In one instance, Marlene loses half of her supplies to a group of orphaned boys who frighten her with their wild nature and freedom from the rules of society. In another, Marlene loses track of her own son while they are out scavenging.

Luckily, where Marlene lacks in warmth, her sister-in-law, Joni, steps in to keep the children content and happy. Joni, however, can come off as a bit of a hippie, and she is not always great at making decisions for the best of the group. As the two try to control their children, maintain their camp and figure out what has happened to the rest of England, they struggle to remain composed and keep their children from worry. As they find more and more clues about the tragedy that has befallen England, readers will shudder with the realization that we are always one tragedy away from an apocalypse, a fear that will seem even more real during these troubled times.

As the novel continues, Marlene experiences a tremendous amount of character growth. Where she was once hard and logical, she has become soft and compassionate as she begins to learn what it means to be a good mother, both for her children and for the people around her. Of course, this is not to say that Marlene is particularly likable. I often found myself shaking my head at her decisions and lack of interest in the people around her, especially when it came to her son’s friend, Peter. In one particularly eye-opening passage, she explains, "Nowadays, my principles were about as firm as my pelvic floor. And yet the outcome was the same: neither maternal instinct nor higher intellect has time for heroism." Still, her behavior is not without reason, and Furniss does a tremendous job of displaying the highs and lows of motherhood. Her ability to tune in to the finest details of life, love and survival elevate ALL THE LITTLE CHILDREN from a generic post-apocalyptic novel to a much more powerful and realistic journey through a terrifying, yet not unbelievable, situation.

Drawing upon very real threats that many readers will recognize, Furniss crafts a compelling, suspenseful thrill of a novel that will keep readers turning pages long past their bedtimes. Although I was a bit dissatisfied with the ending, I found it crushingly realistic and cannot wait to see where Furniss turns her keen eye next.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 8, 2017

All the Little Children
by Jo Furniss

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1542045681
  • ISBN-13: 9781542045681