Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn
S.C. Flynn’s debut novel, Children of the Different (2016), begins as Arika, a thirteen-year-old girl, enters her Changing, a comatose state during which the child explores the Changeland, a dream-like world, and gain new powers. Arika’s twin brother, Narrah, is upset to watch his sister slip into her Changing. Not only does it sever their telepathic bond, The Path, but it also means that his Changing is coming up at any time. When he finally does succumb to his own Changing, Arika has already exited hers. For most of the novel, Narrah and Arika are separated, one in the world of the living, one in the Changeland, and both trying to solve mysteries that relate to the past and future of their world.
Flynn’s setting for Children of the Different is a post-apocalyptic Australia. At some point in the past, a disease called Madness caused people to fly into homicidal rages, killing others unstoppably. When both Arika and Narrah go into their Changings, they see the pre-Madness world, full of tall, shiny towers and people in cars, using cellphones. In the Changeland, Narrah and Arika also witness the way the world changed during and after the Madness, and enter a dry, hot world populated with giant termite nests. And they meet the Changeland’s great threat, the Anteater, an echidna who “suck[s] up life … Little pieces of life that don’t matter” so that it grows stronger. The anteater is symbolic, as are many of the challenges the twins face in the Changeland, but they all have real-world effects. Flynn is drawing on Aboriginal wisdom and myth and adding fantasy elements to invent a dreamscape that feels cosmologically significant. It is interesting to see how the survivors of this world have begun to use pieces of that mythology to create their own explanation for how the world works.
When they come out of their Changings, both Narrah and Arika have developed new powers. Their abilities are important to two different groups of people, both with their own agendas: those who shun technology, and the “City People” who try to use the modern artifacts and scientific principles left behind after the Madness. Their journeys show them different pieces of the puzzle, but they cannot fix what is wrong with their world unless they escape the people holding them and come back together. Doing so will take bravery and insight and a belief that humanity can save itself.
Children of the Different is exciting and fresh, a take on post-apocalyptic narratives that I hadn’t encountered before. Flynn’s language is simple, at moments feeling more like a middle-grade book than a YA. But his characters are not stereotypes and the plot moves quickly. Children of the Different should appeal to any who enjoy books that inhabit the spaces of fantasy, sci-fi, and myth all at once.
Thanks for the review!