cover image Anthem


Noah Hawley. Grand Central, $29 (448p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1151-4

At the start of this grim, thought-provoking near-future thriller from Hawley (Before the Fall), five Wisconsin teenagers die by suicide in less than two weeks, each writing "A11" somewhere near where their bodies are found. The plague spreads nationwide and then internationally, creating a mind-numbing death count. Adults struggle to understand what's happening, some theorizing that the fatalities are a consequence of the Covid pandemic's social isolation. Many fear the suicides represent an "act of collective surrender" presaging the extinction of humanity. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Simon Oliver, who found his older sister dead from overdosing on the opioids their family business manufactured, is told by a fellow resident of the Float Anxiety Abatement Center near Chicago, who calls himself the Prophet, that Oliver is central to establishing a new utopia to be started by children to save the species and the planet. Oliver joins the Prophet and some others in escaping from Float to realize the Prophet's vision. From the ominous sentence that opens the main narrative ("The summer our children began to kill themselves was the hottest in history"), the author creates an all-too-plausible dystopia rendered believable through matter-of-fact prose. Hawley makes this sing by combining the social commentary of a Margaret Atwood novel with the horrors of a Stephen King book. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (Jan.)