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Trashlands by Alison Stine

Evocative and haunting, Alison Stine’s Trashlands is a book you won’t want to miss.

This novel takes place after disasters caused by climate change ravaged the world.

Coral and her family (husband & tattoo artist Trillium, father figure & teacher Mr. Fall) live in Scrappalachia. In this junkyard, she and other residents go to work every day plucking plastic to sell for money.

Floods and fires have ostensibly destroyed the United States. People in the Midwest resorted to scavenging for plastic, following its flow as junk moves through the waterways since plastic is the only real currency left after the failure of power grids, Internet systems, and other support structures backed by the government. Humans have to use plastic to sustain the infrastructure and the economy. The pink neon sign of Trashlands, the strip club at the end of the world, illuminates the Scrappalachia skies.

Coral is in her mid-thirties and doesn’t remember much of the world before the disasters. Mr. Fall, who adopted her as an infant, is a teacher by trade. He taught her everything he could about surviving in the world and passed along stories about the United States of his childhood.

Coral has a child of her own, a boy born of heartbreak, but her son was kidnapped and conscripted into service in the plastic factories, where he produces plastic bricks.

Strange men are drawn to Trashlands by the reputation of its dancers, but the latest stranger to arrive in Scrappalachia says he’s a reporter. He is searching for a connection to his long-lost sister and finds himself fascinated by the people who populate the junkyard. Their lives are more different than the life he leads in what remains of the city.

As Coral yearns for her son, she constantly works at the river and makes art in her time off. When she receives a tip about the whereabouts of the factory where her son is a captive, will she risk everything to save him? Can her family survive a search and rescue mission?

Trashlands is a story that will stay with me for a long, long time. Alison Stine uses sparse language to create a world that (terrifyingly) doesn’t feel very far off. Stine outlines the edges of the tragedies—both natural and human—that led to the world as it is exists in Trashlands, allowing the reader’s minds to fill in the gaps. That might be the scariest part of this climate-fiction story.

She explores themes of survival and getting by versus thriving in environments hostile to humans. Each one of her characters is well-rounded and believable. Humanity shines through, and the ending will leave you breathless. One of the best books I’ve read all year.


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