The Road by Cormac McCarthy
While this is a book that is officially designated for adults, I believe that it will appeal to many teens, and if you, parents, have not read it, I encourage you to do so. And please don't let the fact that it's an Oprah's Book Club selection thwart you from reading it. (She does alright sometimes.) I rank this book among the best I've ever read.
The opening passage of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-Winning novel literally took my breath away:
“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. ” (p. 3)
As I read this, I was immediately drawn in and overcome with a sense of dread and hopelessness. What horrific event has happened? What is this granitic beast these pilgrims are running from, and where are they headed? It's obvious that the man loves this child and is consumed with fear for the child's life. Otherwise, why would he wake up in the middle of the night to check to see if the child is still living? Is the child sick?
These questions were soon answered as I continued reading. The man and the child, his son, are perhaps one of the few survivors of a cataclysmic event, one of which is never really described in the book, but we get an all too close look at its aftermath. Realizing that he and his son cannot survive another winter in their current location, the man has planned a journey to the south. As they travel the roads of a post-apocalyptic United States, we get a glimpse into the horror of what humanity has become. Many of the survivors have banded together and have become cannibals, rapists, murderers.
The man and the boy live in constant fear of being caught, and the man has instructed the child to commit suicide if they are ever caught. Adding to this danger is the threat of starvation, exposure to the elements, illness, and exhaustion. Needless to say, you can see why the man awakens in fear every night. But his all-consuming fear is having to kill his son himself if his son is unable to commit suicide if it ever gets to that.
The boy, who was born soon after the destruction, has never known any other life, but he is the epitome of good surrounded by so much evil. During their journey, events happen that seem to eat away at his soul, and he is devastated when they cannot help others they meet along the way, even the ones who have every intention of killing them.
This is an extremely powerful book...so much so that it's very hard to describe in words. It's about the love between a parent and child, the horrors of what humanity can be capable of, the struggle for survival, and even the quest for good.
I didn't want to put it down, yet sometimes it was so emotional and gut-wrenching that I just wanted to throw it across the room. As a parent, I identified with the man, and now, the question that keeps running through my head is, "how far would I go to save my child from pain, from terror, from a fate where death is the best option?"