Author: Isla Morley
Release Date: Available
In Eudora, Kansas, a local librarian and survivalist, Dobbs, lives in a mindset of conviction and certainty that the world is on the brink of collapse. In response to this, he constructs an underground bunker in an abandoned missile silo, storing everything from food and supplies to copies of historical documents and various seed samples. He’s also decided who will be his perfect mate — who will be the Adam to his Eve once the world needs rebuilding.
The novel opens with our sixteen year old protagonist, Blythe Hallowell, waking up in her new home.
Abducted and afraid, Blythe attempts to come to terms with her new situation, reacting with fear and confusion, attempting escape and pleas before eventually setting into a sort of resignation. She spends the next eighteen years of her life trapped in the silo, treated to Dobbs’ deranged ramblings about the end of the world, futilely trying to convince Blythe that everything he’s done is for her own good. A few years into her imprisonment, she has a child, and must then struggle with the additional burden of trying to raise and protect her son from the hell they both occupy. Once her son, Adam, reaches the age of fifteen, though, Blythe’s flimsy excuses and explanations no longer satisfy him. He becomes determined to see the world above, and when Dobbs’ refuses, becomes determined to escape.
All of this occurs in the first half of the novel — which I really enjoyed reading. It was thrilling and suspenseful, and Morley does an excellent job of building tension as Blythe makes her numerous escape attempts. The opening half is both page-turning and captivating, compelling and horrifically believable.
But the second half of the novel is where the story loses me.
Okay, quick heads up, massive spoiler alerts below. You’ve been warned.
Adam and Blythe manage to escape by killing Dobbs, finally experiencing a taste of freedom in the world above. Adam is mystified and blown away by this wide, wide, world — but Blythe can tell that something is different —- wrong. Because as it turns out, all of Dobbs’ deranged ramblings about the end of the world turn out to be true. Power failed, nuclear reactors melted down and coated the country in radiation, governments and systems have collapsed and the entire country is poisoned. Adam and Blythe stumble through this new world of unpredictability and danger, eventually managing to settle themselves in Blythe’s old hometown with some familiar faces from Blythe’s past, and, in a sense, live happily ever after.
Now, I’ve heard comments that Above feels like two stories squeezed into one, and I do agree with that. But that’s not my main problem with the book. My main issue is Dobbs, and the treatment of his character.
For the first half of the novel, the reader is led to, reasonably and understandably, revile him. He kidnapped a sixteen year old girl and trapped her underground for over 18 years, removing her from everything she knew and loved and raping her along the way. But then Adam and Blythe discover the world above, finding out that everything Dobbs said is true — that he in fact saved both of them from radiation poisoning and the chaos and misery that plagued the country for years. By raping Blythe, he gave her a son free of mutations and disabilities that define every other child born in recent years. He gave them both a chance at life.
So how am I supposed to feel about him? Blythe herself does very little consideration of Dobbs after emerging aboveground, just the occasional though here or there, leaving Dobbs actions as very morally open ended. He’s also praised later in the novel for remembering to save important historical documents that all others overlooked.
Is he the hero or the villain? As it turns out, he did a number of tremendously good things for Blythe and Adam, by doing a number of tremendously horrific things. Or do they only seem horrific because Blythe/the reader were blind to the truth? After discovering how awful things have become above, the little consideration that Blythe gives to Dobbs seems almost approving and accepting of his actions.
But that can’t erase all of Dobbs horrible actions, can it? Or do his actions only seem horrible because of the reader’s limited perspective?
I walk away from Above treating Dobbs as the villain – because perhaps it can be argued that his actions were justified, but at the heart of the issue, he never gave Blythe a choice. Maybe if she’d been aware of everything that would have happened, she would have chosen life in the silo — but regardless, it should have been her choice to make. By depriving her of the opportunity to make her own decisions, taking it upon himself to do “what’s best for her” Dobbs casts himself in the role of the villain. In the end, his actions aren’t justified by the end of the world.
So overall, I thought the book was interesting and certainly unique. I was frustrated by the moral ambiguity, but all of this is just my take on the novel. I’d be curious to hear other interpretations and views on Dobbs actions. Regardless, it is a gripping and fast-paced read — exciting and intriguing from the first page.
Reviewed by Kayla
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