Beyond a Book Review: The uncertain futures of How High We Go in the Dark

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Shawna Ayoub moves "beyond a book review" in not only recommending great books by diverse writers but highlighting a technique to apply to your own writing.


How High We Go In the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Sequoia Nagamatsu is a multi-award-winning Hawaiian writer with an MFA from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His book, How High We Go In the Dark, is an exploration of hope when humanity uncovers an ancient virus that threatens its existence. Each chapter is the story of another person on Earth somewhere in the timeline of the virus, with the first preceding its initial contagion.


Stories of survival

Every piece of this collection feeds the whole. Every story builds the universe and tells a greater story. From the virus’ discovery to its spread to the launching of a contingent of humans into space to save humanity and, eventually, to the development of a viral vaccine, this book fully explores what it takes to survive and the intimate meaning of survival to the individual.

Perhaps the most heartrending story is that of a comic who takes a job at an end-of-life theme park where parents bring their children to take their last ride. The comic is tasked with placing children on the euthanizing ride, of supporting parents through the process of letting their terminal children go. I want you to read this story, so this description is as far as I’ll go except to add that the tale is beautifully, tragically complicated and feels deeply personal in a way I’m happy to never recover from. Every now and then we come across writing that changes us. This book is a collection of stories that challenge our most tightly held beliefs. And rightly so, because we can only think we know what’s going to happen. The future is never certain.

There are other stories here equally as powerful. In one, a pig gains sentience and learns to talk. His relationship with the researcher responsible for him is complicated by the researcher’s loss of his child to the virus. In another, a man wakes from the virus to find he is the only survivor in his family. Recognizing that others in his neighborhood are in the same position, he constructs an invitation to a block party.


A writing exercise

Construct an invitation to a party after the apocalypse. Think about what needs to happen at this party. Who needs to be there? Where should it be held? How should people RSVP, and how will the invitation be circulated—is there internet or cell service in this future? Will there be games? Will there be children? Will there be food? What can attendees expect to come away with?

For some of us, this might ring some bells; it might remind us of our first gathering post-COVID. If so, lean into this. Once we were vaccinated and able to group, how did we come together? What did we do? How did it feel? How was it different than *before*?

If you want to read this novel for yourself, consider purchasing How High We Go in the Dark at and supporting independent bookstores across the U.S.


Related reading 

Beyond a Book Review: Sentences as paragraphs in The Last White Man

Beyond a Book Review: Alternate futures in Womb City

Beyond a Book Review: Beginning at the End in Tomb Sweeping

Beyond a Book Review: The “What if?” of The Deep Sky

Beyond a Book Review: Grief and Hope in All We Are Told Not to Touch

Beyond a Book Review: Once Upon a Time in Dovelion

Beyond a Book Review: Narrators and Compassion in Finding La Negrita

Beyond a Book Review: Research as Connection in Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

Beyond a Book Review: Intuition in River Woman, River Demon

Beyond a Book Review: Timeline(s) in Becoming AppalAsian

Beyond a Book Review: Unwieldy Creatures and retelling our stories

Beyond a Book Review: Containers as safe spaces in Nonwhite and Woman

Beyond a Book Review: Footnotes in Belly to the Brutal


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