Friday, October 20, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List}: Malorie (sequel to Bird Box) by Josh Malerman

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Malorie (sequel to Bird Box) by Josh Malerman

by Karen S. Wiesner

Bird Box, a post-apocalyptic horror novel by Josh Malerman, was published in 2014. See my review of it here: The direct sequel, Malorie, was published in 2020 (two years after the Netflix film adaptation starring Sandra Bullock aired). The initial chapters are set two years after the events of the first story, in which Malorie and her two young children are forced out of the school for the blind they've been staying, safe in a group setting, from undefined creatures that have caused mankind to go homicidally mad just by looking at them. From the school, they flee to an abandoned Jewish summer camp. The story in Malorie really begins 12 years after that point.

The kids are now teenagers going through many changes--for Tom (or Boy, as he was referred to in the first book), it's wanting to rebel against any and all authority. In this case, that's his mother, who forces them to live in fear, always protected against the monsters that have destroyed the world as she knew it. Tom believes he's found the means to combat the madness that comes from seeing the creatures. Malorie refuses to allow him to test his prototype out, since doing so would not only be dangerous for all of them, but deadly for the person who made the attempt. For Olympia (or Girl, as she was called in Bird Box), she fears telling the secret she's been hiding for so long, knowing how badly her mother would react to learning the truth about her.

When Malorie learns that her parents might still be alive, she's too wary to leave their secure hiding place…until, of course, their safety is breached and she has no choice but to flee. Going to the place her parents were last seen seems like the best option, but I'm certain, if not for that immediate threat, she never would have considered leaving.

Malorie is 12 years into raising her children, holding on to them so hard, they're bleeding (not simply chaffing) from her inflexible tyranny in enforcing the rules. In preparation for writing this review, I reread Bird Box and found Malorie even more abusive in that story than I originally remembered when writing the review for the first book. She lives in fear and thrusts the kids into the same terror that constantly threatens to drown her. She justifies this by telling herself that, to survive, she has to be unceasingly disciplined and ruthless. As I said in that review, being cold with children, withholding affection, in no way makes anyone physically safer, let alone happier and well-adjusted. In fact, I think the opposite is actually true. If there's a strong bond of love with open communication and a willingness to listen to other people's feelings and ideas, there's more acceptance and obedience as everyone tries to work together to ensure safety and well-being are achieved. In this case, I don't know that that ends justify the means. In this sequel, Malorie was unnecessarily cruel, harsh, and loveless in her discipline. She never explained anything to her children. She was more like a ruthless drill sergeant. Her unyielding authority led to all the problems that followed in the book. Tom and Olympia are perfect examples of what happens with this kind of parenting. Kids either rebel violently or they become exact matches of their own barbaric authority figure, which is a vicious circle. I believe Malorie's only saving grace was that she didn't ask her kids to do anything she wasn't willing to do herself--and religiously!

Although it was very hard to accept Malorie's justifications as acceptable, I wasn't without compassion. I can't imagine the hell of her situation. How do parents keep children safe in a world where there's literally no such thing? Even in the present day, this is a universal struggle, and no one has found definitive answers since, naturally, no one seems to agree on what's actually right and what's actually wrong. I found it sad (if a little clich├ęd and pathetic) that Tom became such a reckless, foolish person, damning all when he finally threw off the shackles of his confinement. If Malorie had just listened to his ideas and tried to find ways to encourage him without putting them in danger, he wouldn't have reacted the way he did. If Olympia had felt safe enough to talk to her mother about who and what she is, she wouldn't have had to withhold secrets her mother desperately needed to know. When militant obedience is the only required response…well, what could possibly make life worth living? Mere survival won't be enough for long.

Without these conflicts, the book wouldn't have had much of a foundation, and, given that these very questions are the ones that mirror society as we know it in the present day, they're valid and relatable. Despite the timeworn nature of the plot problems, there's a fresh spin on them here and I enjoyed this book as much as I did the last one. The scenario was compelling and tense, constantly escalating.

However, this follow-up was supposed to provide "the reason for all the bloodshed", and it didn't. Not at all. Instead, the creatures in Malorie are even more mysterious, illusive, numerous, and actually appeared to have evolved since the last story, though again they're never described to us and we don't learn a single thing about who and what they are, where they came from, and what their purpose is (beyond making sure every person on the planet is killed--one can't help wondering what the point of that is from the monsters' point-of-view). That lack of resolution (again) was more than a little unsatisfying. I feel like I've only gotten half of a story because this went without saying (again).

Mild disappointment aside, if you liked Bird Box (the book and the movie), you should equally like Malorie. This tale also serves as a cautionary tale: Instead of treating your children like soldiers under your command, view them as unique individuals, worthy of love and respect. Encourage them to contribute not just to survival but also to the enrichment of life.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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