The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah. October 29, 2019. Hyperion, 311 p. ISBN: 9781368036887. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.
In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope–fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.
When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcing Leyla to make an impossible choice.
Now she must brave unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at the heart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–or worse. And her father will be lost to her forever.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence
Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Grades 7-11. Sixty-five years ago, Leyla’s world was above the waterline. But in 2099, the earth has drowned and the people with it. Leyla lives alone with her father, an astronomer, and she makes ends meet by competing in sub races around famous London landmarks. Or she did until her papa was arrested for terrible crimes she’s certain he didn’t commit. Running out of time, running out of money, and coming up empty on answers, Leyla determines to find and rescue him herself. When she discovers a whole underwater world, her life gets much more interesting—and dangerous—than she ever imagined it could be. While the book seems to end on a firm note, there could easily be more stories in this undersea dystopian world. Shah’s prose sometimes turns melodramatic (“Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters”), but this is a fine postapocalyptic novel that hits a timely note with its climate-change narrative. A solid purchase for large collections.
Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
In 2099, London is underwater. Sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen, a Muslim submersible racer, will stop at nothing to find her father, Hashem, who has been arrested and charged with encouraging “seasickness sufferers to take their lives.” When she is picked as an entrant in the London Submersible Marathon, Leyla is determined to win and ask the prime minister for her father’s freedom. But things do not go as planned, and when Leyla learns that her father is not really being detained in London as she’d been told, she leaves, evading the Blackwatch security forces who are kept busy overseeing New Year’s celebrations. Leyla, along with unwanted partner Ari, the son of a family friend, must drive her submersible through waters she has never before navigated. Along the way, she learns that she must question the statements of a corrupt government, as themes in the story echo issues in the present day. Debut novelist Shah vividly describes a world below the ocean’s surface, evoking people’s nostalgia for the Old World, when Great Britain lay aboveground. Leyla’s character grows and changes over the course of her journey, her love and loyalty toward her family only growing stronger. Leyla is Pashtun and of Afghan heritage; diversity in the book reflects that of contemporary London. This thrilling journey packed with unexpected discoveries will leave readers eager for plot resolutions in the next installment. (Science fiction. 12-17)
About the Author
Author London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She has lived in Britain’s capital city for most of her life via England’s beautiful North. When she’s not busy re-imagining the past, plotting an alternate present or dreaming up a surreal future, then she’s most likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes, strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an evening in the city’s older, darker alleyways—preferably just after it’s rained—listening to punk rock, or losing herself in a fab SFF book or film. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater.
Her website is www.londonshah.com.
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