In Jason Mott's dystopian novel The Crossing, a mysterious disease is claiming the lives of the elderly, while a world war sends the young to almost certain death. People wear gas masks, quarantine themselves from loved ones, and throw end-of-the-world parties in a different town every night. Seventeen-year-old Virginia remembers everything she's ever seen, read or heard, including the death of her parents. When her twin brother, Tommy, is drafted, the siblings embark on a disastrous journey to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch, in hopes of escaping Tommy's fate, connecting them once more to their space-obsessed father, and witnessing perhaps the last beautiful thing in a dying world.
Mott's vision of the U.S.--protested by draft dodgers, divided by fear, on the brink of economic and social collapse--feels at once vintage, current and futuristic. The disease, in which sufferers simply fall asleep and never wake, is gentler and more accessible than the plagues of other post-apocalyptic stories, though no less debilitating. Some plot points seem implausible, but the themes Mott (The Returned) brings up are worth considering. The past lives on in memory, though for Virginia, it's more curse than blessing. Around her, people stay hopeful by singing opera, having children and keeping their families close, despite illness. And her parents' advice remains true: it's not just possible, but necessary, to find beauty in an ugly world. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller