Which is more important—survival or family? This is a question the protagonist of On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis struggles with throughout the 456-page thriller. Denise is an autistic, biracial teen living in the Netherlands in the year 2035 with her drug-addicted mother and transgender sister, Iris. The novel begins on a suspenseful note: “The first time my future vanished was July 19, 2034” (Duyvis, 1). A comet is scheduled to hit Earth, destroying everything and making the planet near uninhabitable. The novel follows before, during, and after the comet hits through Denise’s eyes as she struggles to earn a place on a generation ship (the only way off the planet and the path to ensured survival) for her family. As the book’s jacket asks: “When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?” (Duyvis).
While the text will undoubtedly appeal to any fan of sci-fi, it goes far beyond the typical and delves into the complexities of each character, making it far more realistic than most young adult literature I’ve read. What I found most memorable were these portrayals; Duyvis allows her characters to have real issues to grapple with, but doesn’t define them with only one trait. Iris is transgender, yes, and the novel discusses this. However, it also deals with the choices she feels she must make in order to retain her humanity, despite putting herself in danger.
But it is Denise, the narrator, who really makes the novel special. She’s determined, powerful, smart—everything most protagonists in science fiction are. Yet she’s also biracial and autistic—two characteristics that aren’t usually given to a protagonist, especially in science fiction, where white, neurotypical characters dominate. On the Edge of Gone is not only a thrilling read: It’s an important one, one that proves that we should avoid falling back on stereotypes and shouldn’t other those who are different. Duyvis threads this idea throughout: Denise comments that “people have certain expectations of girls who look like I do—confidence and extroversion and sass—and that’s not me” (Duyvis, 123). Duyvis also deals with the intersection of Denise’s identities as half-black and autistic: “At the time, I thought the diagnosis [of autism] was delayed because I was bad at being autistic…; it took me years to realize that since I wasn’t only Black, but a Black girl, it’s like the DSM shrank to a handful of options [she was previously labeled as bipolar, psychotic, intellectually disabled, and having oppositional defiant disorder]” (Duyvis, 210). In one scene, Denise makes a joke, and her companion is surprised; aren’t all autistic people literal? No, Denise proves.
On the Edge of Gone is a brilliant entry-point to learning more about autism, racial stereotypes, transgender individuals, and drug addiction. Anyone who has ever been ostracized for a part of them that is either impossible or very difficult to change will be able to relate. Prepare to have your views challenged and question your assumptions. That’s how you know On the Edge of Gone has made an impact on you.
On the Edge of Gone may at first appear to be a long novel, but it reads very quickly, with many twists. My favorite part? Unlike many books, which will answer the beginning question that I asked (“Which is more important—survival or family?”) definitively, Duyvis proves that no issue is that simple. Denise doesn’t always make the choices we expect of her; she isn’t all about the noble, self-sacrificing option. She’s about weighing the pros and cons, seeing what she herself needs as well as how she can help others. And that’s what makes her far more relatable than most heroines—and On the Edge of Gone a far more enjoyable and though-provoking read than most other young adult literature.
By: Grace Layer
Duyvis, Corinne. On the Edge of Gone. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. Print.