I love Polly Ho-Yen’s books so was thrilled to hear of her latest title and even more excited to be given the opportunity to read it ahead of its publication.
Billy’s mum, Sylvia Weywood, is a bit different to other people’s mums which is why he finds himself pulled out of school on the last day of term before the Christmas holiday’s and standing in a wood learning survival skills as opposed to enjoying party games with his classmates. Sylvia has become increasingly obsessed with teaching Billy a strict set of rules, not just any rules…rules for survival; Be prepared; Pay attention; Trust no one; Master your fears; Never stop trying. But when one of Sylvia’s survival lessons goes wrong, Billy finds himself sent away to live with a dad who he barely knows while his mum is sent to a psychiatric hospital to ‘get better’.
Alone, confused and desperate for answers, Billy has no idea what his mum has been preparing him for but when a mysterious virus begins sweeping through the city turning people into zombie-like creatures, aka ‘Greys', Billy must call on all his survival skills to keep his family safe…
Polly Ho-Yen’s latest read is a gripping and well-imagined science-fiction narrative that kept me on tenterhooks throughout. Given the current global pandemic, the whole deadly virus scenario feels all rather familiar, although thankfully I haven’t seen too many zombie-like creatures walking down the street. And rather than adults being left to defeat the virus, Ho Yen has given us a child survivalist who is more than ready to take on the world.
This is a slow burn that gradually draws the reader in before wrapping its clutches around them and never letting go - much like the ‘Greys’ do to their victims. Ho-Yen initially has readers trying to work out what the mysterious and erratic Sylvia is up to, where she disappears to in the middle of the night and what exactly Billy is being prepared for. When the answer dramatically reveals itself, a tension-filled race against time ensues. Will Billy and his family evade the Greys? Will the adults believe Billy? Will Billy make it back to Sylvia? From the moment the ‘Greys' are introduced, the story becomes filled with trepidation, fear and lots of heart in the mouth moments. Readers can expect plenty of close calls and near misses with the infected as the action stays just the ride side of out and out horror - it is more thrilling escapes and edge of the seat suspense as opposed to zombie-gore fest.
The small number of characters are all brilliant and I love the real-world issues that they are dealing with. Ho-Yen touches on mental health, parents separating, loneliness and the challenges of new family dynamics. Main protagonist Billy is a quite a complicated character who is dealing with plenty. He is trying to survive the virus, trying to survive his new family that sees him with his dad, his dad’s girlfriend Julie and Julie’s daughter Angharad, and desperately trying to get back to his mum. In order to survive everything he has to learn to trust, shows great resilience and of course, put into action the survival skills that Sylvia has taught him. By the end, the determined Billy has really come-of-age and after surviving the zombie apocalypse, he is more than ready to face any challenge that life throws at him.
How I Saved The World in a Week is a thoroughly engrossing read that is the perfect blend of family, friendship, survival and the importance of always being prepared. Making of a survival kit is optional but strongly advised.
Recommended for 9+.
With huge thanks to Polly Ho-Yen and Simon & Schuster for the advanced reader copy that I received via NetGalley.