December 14, 2019

Parker Peevyhouse: "Strange Exit" (ARC Review)

Title: Strange Exit  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Parker Peevyhouse [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 2020
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Complex but believable VR setting, painted in mind-blowing details. Sometimes flawed, yet well-meaning and brave teens who will tug at your heart. Strong sibling theme. Twists and turns galore.
Cons: The ending feels a little rushed.
Will appeal to: Those who are fascinated by virtual reality and survival stories. Those who like books with a strong accent on family and a minimal amount of romance.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Lake spends her days searching a strange, post-apocalyptic landscape for people who have forgotten one very important thing: this isn’t reality. Everyone she meets is a passenger aboard a ship that’s been orbiting Earth since a nuclear event. The simulation that was supposed to prepare them all for life after the apocalypse has trapped their minds in a shared virtual reality and their bodies in stasis chambers. No one can get off the ship until all of the passengers are out of the sim, and no one can get out of the sim unless they believe it's a simulation. It's up to Lake to help them remember. When Lake reveals the truth to a fellow passenger, seventeen-year-old Taren, he joins her mission to find everyone, persuade them that they’ve forgotten reality, and wake them up. But time’s running out before the simulation completely deconstructs, and soon Taren’s deciding who’s worth saving and who must be sacrificed for the greater good. Now, Lake has no choice but to pit herself against Taren in a race to find the secret heart of the sim, where something waits that will either save them or destroy them all. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: this title was up for grabs on NetGalley (in the Read Now section). Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge/Tor Teen for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.


I know that many readers who prefer contemporary and/or fantasy are intimidated by sci-fi. But with Peevyhouse's books (she has three under her belt) it's not the case. You're not fed theories or technical explanations of how things work. In this particular book, you're swallowed into a futuristic setting and a sophisticated digital simulation you don't need to know the rules of, and you're in for an adventure - AND a love story in the widest sense. I don't know if the kind of virtual reality depicted in this book could ever get developed (which is a scary thought, if you ask me, because it feels so mesmerising and, well, real), but what I know is, I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride, and I never once questioned the hows and ifs and whys. I think the most notable aspect of this virtual world is that it replicates the alleged post-apocalyptic reality of our planet (the result of a nuclear fallout), and still there are patches of beauty and safe spots the kids connected to it were able to create, and powerful illusions, and impossible escapes (the "strange exits" the book is named after) - but you can escape only for so long before reality catches up with you. (Also, in case you're wondering, the author came up with a logical - if cruel - reason for adults not to be around...). [...]


For an action and twist-packed book, Strange Exit has a lot of heart that doesn't necessarily translate into romance (though there is some). I loved how the two protagonists are allies (though in a somehow complicated relationship, which was a fresh insta-friendship in sight) instead of mutual romantic interests, and how each of them has an emotional baggage/guilt complex about their respective siblings, which they deal with in different ways. I also loved how Willow (Lake's supposedly dead sister) is an integral part of the simulation, and a self-aware one at that (there's an interesting explanation for that, too). While Lake took it upon her to save her fellow travelers from the virtual world, each visit she pays to the sim allows her to spend time with her sister and makes her risk becoming dependent from the sim itself, which is a fascinating contradiction (except the truth is much more complex than that). The sibling theme, ultimately, is not only strong - for both leads, though with a different outcome - but also as enthralling as the virtual world and its secrets.


If I have an issue with Strange Exit, it's that the ending is kind of abrupt, and doesn't answer some of the questions the story raised. After a final twist that caught me by surprise (though, looking back, there were clues, but I was so engrossed in the story that, like the kids lost to the sim, I chose to take certain things at face value), the book comes to a screeching halt in the space of a page and a half. We never get to know the whole truth about life on the ship; we can only take a guess about its captain's fate (based on something that happened in the sim itself); and most of all, though the story's told in a dual narrative (with a handful of chapters from minor characters' POVs), in the end only one of the leads is present. I understand that Strange Exit was mainly this particular character's story, for at least a couple of reasons - but it feels weird that we aren't give the chance to meet the other one in the last pages, if briefly, to get closure about them. Those are all minor quibbles though, because as a whole, Strange Exit is a captivating read that will quench your thirst for softer, but nevertheless mind-blowing and thought-provoking sci-fi sporting brave, sometimes ill-advised (because of course 😉), hurt characters you won't be able to help rooting for.

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  1. I usually can enjoy a book outside my genre of choice, IF the author does a good job blending in the elements I love, like a strong sense of family. That really appeals to me. I also like that you did not feel down in jargon and theories, when it came to the SciFi elements.

    1. I think it's what keeps most readers at bay when it comes to sci-fi - if they don't actually love-love the genre to begin with, they're afraid to get lost in technical stuff, which is not the case here. I can honestly say that Peevyhouse's books are some of the least intimidating I've ever read (though I'm on the fence about The Echo Room, but it's more because I didn't buy the premise), and if you want to come out of your confort zone one day, I recommend them.

  2. Oh what a cool premise. Sounds like lots of neat ideas here, and even with that rather abrupt ending I think I want to get this!

    1. As someone who does read sci-fi, I'm sure you'll like this one!

  3. Is it a stand-alone? I would feel let down by the abrupt ending if I ended up caring about any of those side characters but otherwise it sounds fun and non-sci-fi-fan accessible lol

    Karen @ For What It's worth

    1. Yep, it's a stand-alone, and I feel your concern - but as I said, it's accessible even to those who don't usually read sci-fi because it seems to go over their heads LOL.

  4. Sounds interesting, but that abrupt ending does sound a bit worrisome.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. It's a bit odd - almost like a chapter was missing - but I loved it enough to decide to buy a copy later.


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