Seventeen-year-old Hannah Ashton is poised, disciplined, and focused. Because her audition is approaching for the Corps De Ballet with the South Texas City Ballet Company, Hannah is relentless in her practice sessions. With its structure and predictable patterns, dancing keeps her panic under control. To review her choreography when she can’t actually perform the steps, Hannah uses her hands as proxies for her feet. While engaged in this silent performance, Hannah’s best friend for twelve years, Astrid describes Hannah’s hands as looking like they are performing some kind of “badass sign language.” The only other pastime that consumes Hannah and can make her forget life’s stress is reading and escaping into someone else’s life.
Just as Hannah’s thoughts are linked to muscle movement and ballet, Leo Sterling’s are linked to his music. A guitarist and lead singer of the 80s style rock band Rat Skillet, Leo thinks in chords, and notes, and strums, and shreds. “Always laughing and smiling and looking swaggeringly confident” (22), this collector of interesting sounds radiates charisma. He fights life’s silence with a Fender guitar.
Although they are essentially opposites, Hannah—a combination of willowy grace and hard muscle—and Leo—a selfish, out of control, unpredictable, and unreliable playboy type—both attend Grand Willows High School and move in different social circles. That is until they discover one another in a post-apocalyptic world.
While the pair navigate in this traumatic experience, they discover that living a life that has been mapped out by someone else can be unfulfilling. When the pair is doing what they’re supposed to do, rather than what they want to do; when they fulfill expectations, it takes the pressure off. Sometimes, it’s easier to give in to outsider expectations than to prove them wrong.
In the middle of a long nightmare—both literally and figuratively, Leo and Hannah realize they have been given another chance at life. With her novel You & Me at the End of the World, Brianna Bourne writes a novel of becoming. For a time, Hannah keeps her shields up as Leo attempts to coax power chord smiles from her. He teaches her Leo’s LifeHack: “Whenever you’re upset, do something fun” (177). And she teaches him what it feels like to have someone else deeply care, empathize, and offer comfort. Together, they realize that instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, that doing what they want to do is so much more satisfying.
Staring death in the face forces the two teens to see another path through life. The resulting lessons are powerful:
- Some bad thoughts can’t be smothered by music, whiskey, and marshmallow crème; nor can a life be truly lived as a hermit or a puppet.
- The best high in the world comes not from drinking, smoking, or being at a party but from being beside a person who makes you feel valued and life’s moments worthwhile.
- Real comfort comes from making someone else feel better.
- “It’s okay to not have a specific goal that you go after with intense, structured, precision” (343).
- Living the life that someone else expects is like putting your own life in a holding pattern, waiting for the clocks to lurch forward so everything can start again.
Perhaps the best moral to come from this young adult novel is that the imagination is a formidable force. Both Leo and Hannah possess creative minds.
In fact, a person could read Bourne’s debut novel through an enlightened lens. Bourne seems to suggest that detachment from reality is a necessary part of creative thought. To be truly creative, the artist must have a heightened and well-exercised objective self and delve regularly into the abstract realm to express him or herself through art—Leo’s music and Hannah’s writing and imagining backstories for people.
Similarly, Bourne’s apocalyptic setting seems to suggest that the ability to think original, abstract thought—as well as contemplate our sense of self—can be a deep, dark place to dive into. Maybe, artists who delve so deeply into this realm find themselves lost in a shapeless world that is still beyond human comprehension.
Still, the book need not be read through that lens to be enjoyed as a story of awakening and self-discovery, of becoming a better, truer version of one’s self. It also carries some elements of a love story.
- Posted by Donna