Set in 2100, Exodus tells the story of the island of Wing which is about to be flooded by rising seas. 15-year-old Mara, a native of the island, discovers the existence of New World sky cities that are safe from the storms they endure for months on end, and the rising seas. Mara convinces her people to travel to one of those cities only to be shut out completely by citizens of the New World.
Through perseverance, a calm mind, and a quote from her best friend – “Keep going and never stop” – Mara works to find a new home and hope that life will continue. This book fits into the dystopian genre that many middle and high school students today find compelling. In an article written for Orion Magazine, author David Sobel describes the reasons to encourage the reading of dystopian fiction in middle school. “If Katniss [from the Hunger Games] and these other heroines compel us to be heroic, then perhaps these books are part of the solution.” Mara is definitely one such heroine, who might just help your students be a part of the solution.
Exodus was written in 2002, but it could have been written yesterday. The themes of this book are more relevant today than ever. Mara and her family are living in the midst of a changing climate, and she becomes a refugee who is turned away from one of the only safe places left on Earth. The new cities that were built high in the sky have become off limits to any person not deemed “smart enough.”
For an educator interested in using this book in the science, social studies or language arts classroom, the themes are endless. Because of the rising sea level and raging storms, Mara and her people become refugees who are left outside the city walls along with hundreds more. The causes of this humanitarian crisis are revealed when Mara and her friend discuss the energy choices of the past and how their future was shaped from these mistakes. “We lost our city because of that too. [She] says human beings burned up the power of the Earth, not just the trees but so much of the goodness of the planet that the world grew hot and the great ice mountains melted and flooded the lands…Our ancestors stole our future.” Finally, this book demonstrates the importance of empathy, hope, resilience, and leadership in a changing world — a theme in many climate fiction books. As Sobel writes
…resilience and hope is what so many of these plucky characters exemplify, even when faced with the worst odds. If we want to avoid the environmental catastrophes and repressive central governments pictured in current dystopian fiction, we’re going to need more adolescents willing to be heroic.