Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Okay, first things first, I did not read the book, but experienced it in audiobook form. That said, I could not put it down. I can also tell you that there are parts of The Wanderers that you probably don’t want to listen to in public unless you have headphones! It’s fantastic, but there are some drastic bits! As for this particular medium, the narration is well done by both narrators and they’ll keep you enthralled for all 32 hours and change.
The end of the world really does begin with a whimper, rather than a bang. Shana’s life gets turned upside when she discovers her sister sleepwalking and can’t wake her up. Stopping her may mean worsening the condition, so Shana has no choice but to follow and try to keep her sister safe. That is only the beginning though. Soon, others begin to sleepwalk and the authorities become involved. Benji, a former CDC agent, Sadie, a scientist for a shadowy corporation and a mysterious entity named Black Swan quickly get involved, trying to track down and understand the cause of the illness that quickly begins to sweep the area. Meanwhile, politics, religion and the population in general react, as they will to the situation weaving a tapestry depicting a version of modern America.
A plague story for today’s readers
Contemporary is definitely a word I would use to describe this book. Social media posts and podcasts, along with newspaper headlines, are quoted every chapter. The political and social climate mirror our own in many, frankly frightening ways. In my head I keep thinking it’s almost an updated version of The Stand, with a massive plague sweeping the country, just without a literal battle between God and the Devil (spoilers!). People online discuss what’s happening after watching it on the twenty-four hour news cycle. Attitudes quickly turn ugly and incredulous and a Christian extremist group quickly forms, pumping the danger levels to eleven. The prevalence of weapons, climate change, and the general distrust of the educated or anyone different also serve to make things so much worse.
It’s a Wild Ride
I went in assuming I could guess where the story would go, but I was so, so wrong. Wendig has a way of making you comfortable, getting you to think you can predict how things will turn out, and then he twists the entire narrative and you find yourself shocked at the direction it has taken. As someone who writes and reads a lot, I found this incredibly refreshing. I was pretty much riveted to this book every step of the way. Unraveling the mystery of the disease is only part of what kept me so obsessed with finishing the story, but I don’t want to reveal what else is in there. No need to ruin it!
Gray Characters are More Fun
Another aspect I enjoyed were the characters. Initially, I was a little worried that Shana, one of the main focuses, was just going to be an obnoxious teen (which, let’s be real, sometimes she is), but it was cool watching her grow up and expand as a person. She goes from lamenting the fact that she isn’t going to college and feeling like a total loser to shepherding her sister and other sleepwalkers across the country, and without even complaining about it too much. She makes mistakes and she isn’t a saint, and that’s true for all of the characters we meet. It’s fantastic. Benji and Sadie are far, far away from being altruistic paladins of truth and justice. There only character I would consider straight-up evil is probably Ozark, the leader of a religious white supremacist group that crops up, and I say that, because he is over the top, rape is a special kind of evil, bad. Name a horrible thing. Ozark has at least fantasized about doing it.
Everyone else who you are meant to love is pretty lovable though, despite their various, numerous flaws.
Omg, the end!
I’m going to keep this brief, but the end is fantastic. Like, you know that scene at the very end of horror movies? The one where they want you to walk away rattled, knowing that the trouble is not over? This ending nails it and nails it hard. The last scene in this book should be held up as an example of how to end freaky stories for the next couple of decades. That is all I’m going to say about it.
What is it Like?
If you mixed the human drama and massive scope of Stephen King’s The Stand with the thrills of Outbreak and maybe gave it a dash of War Games, you’d get something like Wanderers.
Bechdel Test: Pass
Links: Chuck Wendig's Site, Wanderers page, Goodreads, Bookbub