I picked up The Survival Game by Nicky Singer because the cover and title reminded me of The Hunger Games. As I started reading I realised very quickly that even though this is a dystopian novel about survival, it is very different from The Hunger Games. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, in fact, it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.
“Mhairi owns only two things: A gun with no bullets and her identity papers.”
The world has succumbed to the horrors of Global Warming and Climate Change. Whole continents have been altered and life as we know it has completely changed. Countries are at war over precious resources and all humans are fleeing north, away from the equator zones that are no longer habitable.
Mhairi is fleeing northward to return to her grandmother in Scotland. She is travelling alone, having been separated from her parents in the Sudan. She has traveled thousands of kilometres and endured unspeakable things. She does not trust anyone, and she certainly does not want a travel companion.
However, when a young boy clearly from the equator region and with no family starts to follow Mhairi she has a decision to make. Will she let this boy, who will not speak and has experienced as much trauma as she has, join her on her journey, knowing, full well that he has no papers and may prevent her from ever returning home?
It became very clear to me once I started reading this book that I had completely misunderstood the themes when I picked it up. However, it hooked me straight away and I had to know if Mhairi would make it to Scotland and if she would accept the boy as her travel companion. As I continued to read I was further engrossed in a number of hard hitting themes that are so relevant it todays world. For example:
The theme of refugees:
Everyone in the Equator Zone has been forced to flee and as there is not a lot of land to the south, everyone is heading north. This brings together the challenge of protecting boarders but also saving lives. Singer’s writing is a poignant commentary on the current refugee crisis, but also a look into the future if something is not done to alter the various ways that countries deal with it.
The theme of Climate Change:
As a Geography teacher, this book really spoke to me. It’s a great cautionary tale for the “what if we don’t get the current issue of Climate Change under control” question. The storms, climate discrepancies, lack of resources, and effect on humans makes it a book that clearly shows Singer’s understanding of the issue. This is, I think, the way that many apocalyptic tales will go; not focusing on the end of the world in terms of the angels descending, but rather because of our abuse of our planet. I cannot recommend this enough as a companion novel for any class in high school learning about Climate Change.
The theme of survival:
At its core, this story is about survival and the lengths that people will go to protect themselves and those they love. At first, Mhairi comes across as callous. However, as Mhairi soon discovers, surviving is not just about being alive, but also about living. She realises that in order to really live, human connection is necessary and what better way to connect with someone than by surviving the same trials and traumas. The bond she develops with the boy is so beautifully written that it’s clear that Singer is sending a clear message about human connection being an essential part of the healing process of any trauma.
There are plenty more themes in this book that I could speak about, such as detention centres, military brutality, family, and justice, but I will leave it at that. You’ll have to read it to get the full impact of this beautiful, haunting, and more than a little scary story. I would recommend this for year 9 students and up, as the themes are a little intense. The writing is easy enough to read and there are no mature themes, but I think a level of maturity is needed to fully appreciate the story.