Dearest westward lights, nighttime fires, fellow wanderers who walk the line between and know when to take a boat ride. We, the few, clever enough to know better than to ask for a sign. Signs can be so ambiguous; interpretations can be dangerously loose. In times of trouble we need a snug fit and sturdy oars.
There is a girl out there who listened to her mother, held on to the words long after the voice faded away, long after the memory of the face with the voice was gone. She listened and she waited until the day her mother’s advice was proven wrong and an accidental friend told her a story about a rowboat and a helicopter.
Wynter Roth, the protagonist in Tosca Lee’s dystopian novel The Line Between is just a naive kid forced into one bad situation after another. She’s not a tough girl, but she’s a quick learner with one goal that seems secondary to the unexpected urgent mission that’s dropped in her lap after learning the world is a much worse place than she ever imagined. But that goal is never secondary. She has to save her niece, so everything it takes to fulfill the mission is only a means to one end—go back for the kid.
Only a means to one end. Even the ex-Marine with the great eyebrows, even the benevolent people with the lovely doomsday shelter, even the scientist wearing the Def Leppard t-shirt who knows how to synthesize life-saving antibodies. It’s all for the kid and Wynter never strays from her goal.
Tosca Lee has written a near flawless narrative, easy to love or hate characters, and some heart-buzzing action scenes, all inspired by headlines of a terrifying and little mentioned side-effect of global warming—prion diseases. Take a deep breath and have a drink before googling “prion diseases”. Trust me on this.
The Kirkus Review of The Line Between says Lee missed “an opportunity to put a unique spin on stale societal-collapse tropes, and Wynter’s travails will barely make seasoned genre readers flinch”. Well, how long would books be if authors followed every “opportunity” that presented itself in the course of every subplot? What if the typical genre reader is sick of flinching and wants to have a go at leaning in, letting emotion wash over them instead of blood and guts? But let’s put aside my snarky questions for now so I can just explicitly disagree. Without gratuitous cussing, gore, or tedious info dumps, Lee’s story is downright scary, sweet, funny, and made me want to go hug everyone I know, just in case. (I am not a hugger.)
And by the way … I finally found a comp title. Just when I stopped querying.
Never mind that, though. One of my favorite parts of the book includes a scene in which Wynter (kept within culty confines for 15 years now suffering PTSD and a choking dose of existential confusion) argues with her new found friend Chase over his use of the phrase “maybe it’s a sign” [from God]. She vehemently disagrees, saying that a “sign” would be more dramatic, more obvious, not feel like a coincidence.
Chase counters with a story: A guy takes refuge on his roof after a flood and prays for God to help him. People arrive in a rowboat offering help, the guy declines, says he’s waiting on God. People arrive in a motorboat sometime later, again, the guy declines help. Then a helicopter arrives … yip, the guy says oh no I’m waiting for God. So, the guy drowns. Gets to heaven. Asks God, hey why didn’t you save me? God says, I sent two boats and a helicopter, what more do you want?
The first time I heard this, years ago, I laughed for a few seconds then got kind of upset because it dawned on me that part of the moral is total dumbasses still get the reward of an afterlife. Bummer. But Wynter doesn’t really follow that same line of thought. Several scenes later, the new friends are comfortable enough to joke with one another. Wynter asks Chase with a smile, so, you’re saying you’re the row boat? He laughs and says, I’m the helicopter, baby!
Love. That. Even though he turns out to be more of a boat rowing instructor, a flight trainer. At the risk of spoiling the end, along the way Wynter accepts all the offered help then totally saves herself.
Check out this interview with Tosca Lee at The Beautiful Writers Podcast in which she discusses the book, the coming movie, and other interesting details about her writing and inspiration, hobbies, and early life.
The Line Between is available for Kindle at the shocking promotional price of a buck ninety-nine. Enjoy the read.
Featured image by Zoltan Tasi, downloaded from Unsplash.com