Source: Review copy
Publication: 8 July 2021 from Hot Key Books
My thanks to the publisher for an opportunity to read and review in advance of publication
They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.
For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.
With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…
What would you do if you could get away with anything?
Let’s forget labels for a minute. The Forevers is a Y/A book and I’m pretty sure that audience will devour it, but this is a book I’d recommend to anyone. If you have read We Begin At The End (if you haven’t, stop here and go and get it) then you will know that Chris Whitaker excels in characterisation and an exceptional ability to understand and get to the heart of what drives people; to take the essence of human nature and distil it into a story that is powerful and emotive, yet feels all too real as you read it.
So it is with The Forevers. For the last ten years an Asteroid – Asteroid Selena – has been approaching Earth set on a course that will destroy the planet. There have been numerous attempts to divert it from its course, but all have ended in failure. There’s to be another attempt, but no-one now believes that will work. With a month to go before it hits, the end, as they say, is nigh.
Things have tried to stay as normal as they can be. Kids still go to school where they are taught about the previous failed attempts. Churches are fuller than they used to be and there’s as very big survivalist movement which has its own versions in this coastal town. Fear and panic sit side by side with an aura of false normality and suicides rise with the realisation that there is nothing that can help them now.
17 year old Mae Cassidy is a high school student. She’s never really fitted in. Her parents died when we was 10 leaving her and her blind younger sister, Stella in the care of their grandmother who is now suffering from dementia. Mae has to care for them both and find the resources to feed and clothe them. She’s become rather an expert housebreaker in the process.
It’s a harsh way to grow up and Mae, who is a brilliant big sister, does not go out of her way to ingratiate herself with her less burdened schoolmates. So she finds herself the subject of bullying and tormenting from the clique that every school has – you know the ones – where there is a popular, attractive and generally more affluent girl who surrounds herself with adoring classmates and together they pour scorn and sarcasm on anyone who isn’t part of their privileged lives, calling them weirdos, creeps and spreading rumours about them that are even worse. In this school, the cheerleader is Hunter Silver. Even her name reeks of money and Hunter has a particularly good line in slut shaming that she uses mercilessly on those excluded from her circle.
Mae is torn apart when she discovers the dead body of Abi Manton, who used to be her best friend but who had been tempted over to Hunter’s clique. Abi’s death is considered a suicide – not that unusual now. It’s the third one they’ve had recently. Abi and Mae together formed the first ‘Forevers’; their group of friends who, as misfits, know how much they want to belong.
Though they had been apart, Mae discovers that Abi had tried to get in touch with her before she died and wants to know why and what really happened to her. As she tries to find out, Abi finds that she is attracting an ever larger group of misfits to ‘The Forevers’. There’s the funny Felix with his Barry White obsession and his unrelenting love interest in the unobtainable Candice, Fat Sally Sweeney and the enigmatic Jack Sail, to name a few.
One of the reasons this book resonates so much is that it comes after 18 months of living with a deathly pandemic. Whitaker’s themes of young people being robbed of their chances to grow up, of the opportunities lost to them and the hopelessness that brings feels very close to home just now. The usual rules for living have been tossed away and there is no future. If it wasn’t the pandemic, it could just as easily be climate change though. The sense that the earth is hurtling towards its doom is not a new one to young people today. The saddest thing of all is the way these young people prepare for their graduation ball, which they call ‘The Final’.
The Forevers may be speculative fiction, but it feels very real.
Verdict: Whitaker’s book is emotive and poignant, funny and fearless. It asks some very big questions and digs under the surface at what is really going on in these teenagers’ lives. In doing so it does not miss some important themes surrounding mental health and well-being. The Forevers is a novel about coming to terms with who you are and what is important to you. It is about understanding and accepting yourself and standing up for who you are and what you need. Beautifully, evocatively written, this is a book about love and acceptance of self. Characters are beautifully drawn and you are immersed in these lives and this world. I loved it and would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone, even though, damn you, it made me cry.
Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city. His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017 and his third, We Begin at The End, which won the CWA Gold Dagger this year, was published in 2020. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.