This month, Joe Hart kicked off his Dominion Trilogy with The Last Girl, a post-viral apocalypse tale with a frightening premise. Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads to get you started:
A mysterious worldwide epidemic reduces the birthrate of female infants from 50 percent to less than 1 percent. Medical science and governments around the world scramble in an effort to solve the problem, but twenty-five years later there is no cure, and an entire generation grows up with a population of fewer than a thousand women.
Zoey and some of the surviving young women are housed in a scientific research compound dedicated to determining the cause. For two decades, she’s been isolated from her family, treated as a test subject, and locked away—told only that the virus has wiped out the rest of the world’s population.
Captivity is the only life Zoey has ever known, and escaping her heavily armed captors is no easy task, but she’s determined to leave before she is subjected to the next round of tests…a program that no other woman has ever returned from. Even if she’s successful, Zoey has no idea what she’ll encounter in the strange new world beyond the facility’s walls. Winning her freedom will take brutality she never imagined she possessed, as well as all her strength and cunning—but Zoey is ready for war.
Sounds intense, right?! Let's dive right in:
“Come in,” she says. The door opens, and Simon stands there in the hallway. He wears his usual cleric uniform—a black button-up shirt, closed tight at the throat, and dark cargo pants above hiking boots. His handsome features are wrinkled by lines on his forehead as well as on either side of his thin mouth. His dark hair, always combed so carefully to the side, seems to have grayed more at the temples overnight.
He looks at her with eyes very blue against the slate concrete, though there’s a softness to them that always reassures her no matter what’s happening at the moment.
“Good morning, Zoey.”
“Good morning, Simon.”
“You rested well?”
“Good. Are you ready for breakfast?”
He holds the door open for her, letting it coast shut when she steps into the hall, the lock hidden in the frame snapping quietly. They walk slowly down the hallway, their steps nearly matched. How many
times have we done this? She could do the math, she supposes, but what purpose would it serve? Because she knows why they do it. It’s the same reason for the calendars in all the rooms, it’s why they’re taught to read the months and days only after the rules are memorized. It’s to add another wall around them, knowing how long they’ve been here doing the same thing day after day.
They near the end of the hall and turn a corner. Zoey glances at their strange, bulbous reflections in the curved mirror mounted near the ceiling. She makes a face at herself. The stairs are ahead of them,
but she slows as she sees another Cleric standing outside one of the last doors on the left. He’s younger than Simon, but not by much. He has close-cropped blond hair that reveals his scalp beneath the fluorescent lighting. She knows him as Abbot, but most call him Abe. Zoey stops, and Simon halts as well.
“What’s wrong?” Simon asks.
“I was wondering . . .” She blinks and licks her lips. “I wanted to talk to her before she goes.”
Simon tips his head back, his mouth thinning until it’s only a bloodless line. “Zoey, you know you’re not supposed to speak with her in her room. Especially today.”
“I know. But what will it hurt? She’ll be gone this afternoon, and I won’t see her—” She starts to say ever again but corrects herself. “—for quite a while.” Abe has overheard them talking and is watching Simon, unmoving, unaffected. Simon frowns and glances down the hallway at the domed shape jutting from the ceiling. The cameras are everywhere, their opaque eyes always watching, judging.
“Please,” she says, surprising herself. Simon returns his gaze to her before looking at Abe. Abe shrugs, as if to say Fine with me.
“Only a few minutes,” Simon says.
Abe turns and knocks twice on the door. A murmured reply comes from within, and he holds his bracelet up to the reader beside the lock.
The door clacks, and he opens it for Zoey as she steps past him. The room is a duplicate of her own. There is the desk, the chair, the hateful calendar, and the room’s sole occupant sitting on the bed.
Zoey’s struck, as she always is, by how beautiful Terra can be. Her hair is long and blonde, bordering on white. It is straight and will do almost anything Terra wants it to. Now it’s pulled back from her
face, accentuating her long nose, high cheekbones, and dark eyes that Zoey has never seen shine with true surprise until now.
“Zoey, what are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be in my room.” Her voice is commanding and powerful. She stands from the bed and rises a full three inches above Zoey’s height. It’s not so much that Zoey’s short, but more that Terra is tall. Everything about her cries leader, and that’s why Zoey is so afraid.
“I needed to talk to you. Before the ceremony.”
Zoey hesitates, hovering on the brink of an abyss before stepping off.
“Pretend you’re sick,” she says in a low voice. Terra tips her head and squints at her as if she didn’t hear what Zoey said.
“So you don’t have to go.”
Terra sighs. “Zoey, we’ve talked about this. You know it’s what we all want. I’ve been waiting for this day for years and years. For . . .”
Terra’s voice falters, and Zoey sees a sheen appear in her eyes. “. . . for as long as I can remember. The Program isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to embrace. It’s for the greater good of—”
Zoey turns from her, staring down at the floor, and moves to the desk.
“Please don’t say that to me.”
“‘The greater good.’ Please don’t say that.”
Terra comes up behind her, places her hands on Zoey’s shoulders. They are strong and sure, radiating strength that seems to be the only thing other than kindness that Terra can produce.
“It’s true, Zoey. Today isn’t something I’m afraid of, and you shouldn’t be afraid either. I’m going to get to see them today. I’m going to see my parents.” Terra’s voice falters again, and Zoey knows
that she’s crying behind her, but she can’t bring herself to look at her friend.
“There’s a place outside of these walls that’s safe for us, and after the waiting period I’m going to see it with them.”
Zoey turns then, gazing up at Terra’s tear-streaked face. “I don’t believe it. I think they’re lying to us.”
“How can you say that? They’ve always kept us safe here, sheltered from the plague, those that would hurt us. Why would they protect us if they were lying?”
Zoey ignores the question. “Pretend to trip, to fall down the stairs. If you’re injured even a little, they’ll send you to the infirmary, and we’ll have a few more days.” Zoey can’t stand the pleading in her voice, but there’s no straining it out.
Terra smiles, and Zoey suddenly hates the expression. It’s full of knowing, and comfort, and regal condescension. “You know I won’t do that. I can’t. Don’t worry, it will only be a little while, and we’ll be in the safe zone together. We’ll get to see Grace and Halie, and we’ll be able to meet each other’s parents.”
Zoey steps away from Terra. “It’s a lie,” she hisses, unable to contain the sudden fury that’s bloomed within her. “I don’t know what’s after induction, but it’s not what they say. It’s all a lie. I can see it on Miss Gwen’s face whenever she tells us about the safe zone. She’s lying, and so is the Director.”
Terra looks like she’s been slapped. One of her hands reaches up to cover her mouth, which has dropped partially open. “Zoey, stop. You don’t know what you’re saying. That’s heresy.”
Zoey shakes her head and realizes she’s trembling all over, like after a long run. “Please, Terra, don’t go.”
Terra draws herself up, becoming once again the leader, the keeper of order that she’s been for the last decade among the other women. Her eyes harden, and she blinks away the last of her tears.
“I love you, Zoey. You’ll see soon that everything is okay. Everything is going to be all right.” Zoey looks at her and feels something shrivel in on itself within her chest.
“Goodbye, Terra,” she says, and moves to the door without looking back.
Excerpted from THE LAST GIRL © Copyright 2016 by Joe Hart. Reprinted
with permission by Thomas & Mercer. All rights reserved.
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