Survivors #1: The Empty City
Pub 8-2012, HarperCollins, $16.99
Erin hunter, author of the beloved book series Warriors and Seekers has just written the first book of her new series Survivors. In concept the series is similar to her other two, with talking animals in the wild, with the key animal in Survivors being the dog. However the idea behind Survivors is very different. I was shocked to find that the majority of the book takes place near human civilization and that humans are frequently in the book. All of the main characters live in a city and most are actually pets. This differs from Warriors, a novel about cats living in the wild and having lived there for years (excluding Rusty). Survivors is more about animals entering a new world and finding their place in it. The whole story seems to be a big analogy about life and growing up. How the dogs learn to live on their own and depend on their peers, discover who they are, and connect with their world, is a story that most children my age will find very familiar. This certainly makes it an interesting read.
The story begins with a mother dog telling her pups a haunting story about the Storm of Dogs and telling them to beware of it. We then skip ahead to the present and meet Lucky, who is in the “trap house” with another dog named Sweet. Soon a “growl” (earthquake) hits and destroys the trap house killing everyone inside except Lucky and Sweet, who escape. It is soon discovered that Lucky is a “lone dog” who lives in the city and Sweet is a “pack dog” who lives in the wild. They head for the city, where lucky lives, to find food and other dogs, but they soon discover that the earthquake hit the city too, and no humans are alive. Some left and some were killed. Sweet, scared by the empty city, leaves to go find a pack. She tells Lucky to come too but he refuses, and instead roams the empty city by himself, soon coming across his friend, Old Hunter, and afterwards a pack of “leashed dogs” who were left behind by their owners. They set off to the wild where Lucky teaches them how to survive, and they begin to discover their “dog spirits”. But Lucky also begins to discover himself.
Survivors could be interpreted as a big analogy for life: the dogs are humans and dog spirits are who you are. The dogs learn to find themselves and let go of their pasts. They move on and grow up. These are all big themes of the book. It’s a good coming-of-age story about being part of a group, and part of a family, and connecting to nature. While they travel in the wild, Lucky begins to talk about how each of the dogs finds their “dog spirits”, which is their connection to a certain aspect of nature. For example, Martha, a Newfoundland, finds her dog spirit with the river because she is such an excellent swimmer, and later uses her gift to save one of the other dogs. Sunshine is good at recognizing smells from long distances. Mickey, Bruno, and Bella are good at hunting, and so on. Each of the dogs finds his or her strength, and place in the world.
Of course, over the course of the story, Lucky begins to evolve, as well. At the beginning, he identifies as a “lone dog” and doesn’t want to depend on others. He keeps saying he will only stay with the dogs for a little while and then he will leave. But soon Lucky begins referring to the dogs as “the pack” and his respect and love for them begins to grow. He begins to feel the need to protect and care for the pack, begins to risk his life and safety for them, and keeps delaying his departure. By the end of the book, Lucky nearly dies to help some other members of the pack escape the clutches of fighter dogs who intend on killing them for trespassing on their territory. He could have gotten out, but he helped them instead. This is how we know he’s matured from a “lone dog” into an animal concerned about others, who takes on responsibility. Lucky’s journey to maturity and responsibility is one all teens go through.
However, I cannot say I loved the book entirely; it had a few flaws. It was a bit slow and didn’t speed up until the very end, which was very unclear, and a tad predictable. However, all in all, it was a very haunting and moving novel. It is an analogy about moving on and growing up and a coming of age. The final scene leaves you on the edge of your seat.
Survivors is an intriguing book. It is very deep and conveys many lessons about life. It’s good for all ages because different age groups will get it on different levels. For example, a seven-year-old will love it for a story about dogs, while a fourteen-year-old will love it for its analogies about life. It is a story about discovering who you are, so it is particularly good for preteens and teens. It is a book worth reading, and both the characters and the reader will be changed by the end. All in all, I can’t wait for the sequel!
- Zoe S-G., 12