Basically: The end of the world can also be the trial of a single soul.
In an odyssey that begins in a post-apocalyptic world, David Yoon maps the intersections of guilt and grief. City of Orange begins much like Octavia E. Butler’s final book, Fledgling, and that is utmost praise for how the writing grabs you. Our POV character awakens in pain, there is something wrong with their head, and they have no idea where they are—only that the world might have ended and they are not safe. In this way, our protagonist, Adam becomes a feral being. His only thoughts are of survival and escaping his agony. His memories are as murky as a drop of ink in an overflowing tub. He can’t quite recall his own face or the faces of his family. The one person who remains intact within his mind is his best friend Byron.
Since we’re inside Adam’s head we only know what he knows. At first, he is lost inside a stream of consciousness, which Yoon writes with quirkiness and a leaning toward scientific curiosity when there is nothing else for Adam to rely on. Yet there is a knot of mysteries that needs to be unraveled and we become as battered by fragments of Adam’s thoughts, bits of his backstory, and his emotional deflections as he is. Then, as his mind slowly comes into focus, we begin to put the pieces of his life together alongside him.
Each of the six acts in the book is centered on a person or a place: The Survivor, The Old Man, The Boy, The Dream House, The Secret Place, and The Ocean (in that order). At each stop, Adam rediscovers some part of himself that sends him further on the quest to wherever he might choose to call home. That is why I call this an Odyssey, it is a Homeric inspired journey back from Adam’s own underworld and we are unsure if he will make it.
“Anyway it had been one of his favorite days, cringe and all. Life was like that.”
–David Yoon, City of Orange
Yoon’s prose is as distinctive as a fingerprint. He has a way of making you lean in, to try to see inside the book to glean what you can. Combined with lifelike humor and the cringy moments required to survive after everything ends, this story will make you smile when you should be tearing up and vice versa.
Although City of Orange is a tad longer than its tension, it is an incisive and clever perspective on grief, guilt, and what a personal apocalypse looks like from the inside.
In the End: If you are a fan of literary fiction or literary science-fiction, City of Orange is a distorted dystopian that you’ll enjoy putting back together.