Book Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen


abate-coverSix years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.

In post-apocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.

Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose.

Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.


Thanks much to the author for providing me with a review copy, this did not affect the content of my review in any way.


So I guess my new favorite sub-genres are hopeful post-apocalyptic and light dystopian? Apparently? And this hits the marks and I am SUCH a happy reader right now. Like most great science fiction this book is about the people, the journey through what it means to be human, more so than the events or the the other trappings that make up science fiction.

We experience this world through three main point of views throughout the story–Rob,  Krista, and Moira. Each of these characters has their own secrets, things they’ve been keeping a tight hold on for years. We also get some small bits of the story from Rob’s daughter Sunny. One of the structures I love in story telling is when there are various characters you’re following and you get to see how their stories intersect and that’s done really well here. We get to know each of these characters and their back stories, find out what makes them tick. At first, even though some of them know each other, they don’t really know each other. Because of the devastating influenza that wiped out 70% of humanity, we’re given the impression that people don’t like to form close relationships much anymore. Despite remnants of humanity coming together to rebuild civilization, despite the government encouraging people to carry on with life and to find partners, repopulate the world, etc….people are wary.

One of the things I loved is the book world inventing something called PASD–Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder. I immediately thought ‘of course that’s what it would be called’. So, pretty much everyone is suffering from this newly named disorder, therapy and counseling is highly encouraged, especially after some mysterious event that caused a bunch of people to just…disappear. The government, such as it is, wants to restore order, and that means keeping people calm and focused on moving forward. Don’t worry about that rumor of a new strain of the flu, don’t worry about the gangs of looters outside the city, please keep calm and carry on. This sounds much more sinister than it is, really the government is just trying to do its best to hold things together and look toward the future. Okay, well, sometimes bureaucracy is a bit sinister and some of that is addressed in the book too, with Rob and Sunny’s story line when the government wants to take Sunny away.

Anyway, back to the characters. Each of these characters is well-developed and dealing with their own issues. Rob, years later, is still grieving his dead wife. He can’t move on because he’s living a lie of his own making, a lie he told in order to protect his daughter’s feelings but is now having lasting and long reaching consequences. Sunny is acting out, due to her own unresolved issues regarding her mother. Now the government wants to separate them but Sunny is all Rob has left and he’s on the brink of losing it. Meanwhile, Moira’s entire history is a secret, she’s a former pop star who has been living in hiding since the end started and she doesn’t want to ever go back. Suddenly her father is searching for her and she’s desperate to avoid being found out. And then you have Krista, who grew up in a broken home and has a lot of unresolved issues from her childhood that she’s clearly never dealt with.

Despite all these things, the only thing anyone ever goes to therapy about is PASD. There are so many mixed messages in this new society–be careful when around others about spreading germs, wear masks, wash your hands, but also go to this mixer and meet people and carry on with humanity! So, people are together but there’s this distance between them, and that’s how our characters start out.  It’s only once they come together and really start getting to know each other that they start the real healing process and begin dealing with their pasts.

Another thing I really loved about this book is that it’s so hopeful. You would think a book about the end of the world would be a downer, but it’s really not. Sure, the characters have trauma, and at the start it feels like they’re just going through the motions of living, trying to get through each day and mark it off the calendar. But once they start forming connections with each other, things start to change. They’re not just surviving anymore, but looking forward to a better day. Hope is a powerful thing.

This book focuses on the characters and their story arcs, but it’s also got some good stuff for fans of post apocalyptic stories. We get a very good idea of how the world ended and we see different ways the remnants of humanity have continued on. Although there is a government, not everyone lives within the control of government, some people choose to live in their own communities, outside of the strict rules. I like that the story explored this a bit, even if it wasn’t a huge focus of the book. As far as near-future science fiction, it feels very on point with how things would go if something like this were to happen, how the government would be if it were trying to hold itself, and the world, together. I thought the pacing was great too, lots of tension built in different ways though the various story arcs in play all work great together to keep things moving along.

Overall, I found this to be a very uplifting story about hope and people deciding to do the right thing for each other. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of the author’s work in the future. 5/5 stars.

18 thoughts on “Book Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

  1. Tammy says:

    This sounds like something I’d love! I’m all about hopeful apocalypse fiction, sort of like the end of Station Eleven if you’ve read that. Thanks for putting this on my radar😁

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