When the Children Come pulled me right in from the first page. No introductions or descriptive narrative. Kirwan dropped me right into the action.
Nathan, a military vet who never wanted children, is ironically guarding over two-hundred of them. He’s their protector and possibly last chance for survival… as long as he stays awake.
The story pulls back to explain how Nathan and the children came to be hiding in the abandoned school, and who they’re hiding from.
I enjoyed this page-turner, reading it quickly, and ending up frustrated I’d have to wait until fall for book 2! HA!
Nathan is a great protagonist/hero. While he appears to be negative in the beginning, his backstory explains the guilt he feels for the lives lost during his three tours in Afghanistan—and his PTSD. But with the words of his late CO playing on repeat in his head, Nathan pushes on to be the protector and leader he doesn’t want to be but knows he has to be.
Lara and Raphaela, two women connected to NASA in different ways, are amazing sources of counsel and support for Nathan. Kudos to Kirwan for continuing to write strong, confident female characters. Nathan wonders more than once how he came to be surrounded by women smarter than him. However, it will take smarts and the Special Forces training Nathan has tried to bury to fight an enemy they know nothing about.
My favorite character though is ten-year-old Sally. After her brother is murdered, Sally runs for her life, straight to Nathan who lives in the same apartment building. Though he doesn’t know the child, her fear and his gut instincts tell him something is wrong. The streets are too empty for New Years Day. The adults who begin to gather are angry. And there are no children. Along with Lara—Nathan’s New Year’s Eve blind date—he takes the child and flees the city in search of help and answers. Each leg of the journey brings no answers and more hopelessness, but Nathan can’t help but notice as their situation becomes more dire, Sally matures, adding things overlooked or unspoken to the adults’ conversation.
When the trio meets up with others searching for answers while trying to survive, the ten-year-old becomes the unspoken leader for the children, and that’s how Nathan treats her as he and others train the children in basic survival skills to protect themselves and to kill. They know if adults fall asleep it’s kill or be killed when they wake up.
It wasn’t lost on me that while adults fought over race, politics, and authority, there was no dissension between the children. They didn’t separate by race or gender. There were no outcasts, no labeling. Without the societal burdens adults choose to carry, the children share one focus… to survive. However, as chances of survival shrink and the enemy reveal themselves, the children’s focus turns to revenge. War is coming, but it takes time to plan and train because it will be winner take all. They’ll only get one chance to take down an enemy that’s growing in number, more advanced… and not human. It’s ironic the group’s best chance for survival and victory is also not human.
I’ve read and enjoyed first contact stories before, but the unique plot and realistic characters of When the Children Come make it a memorable book that goes on the re-read shelf.
Nathan, emotionally scarred after three tours in Afghanistan, lives alone in Manhattan until New Year’s Eve, when he meets Lara. The next morning, he notices something strange is going on – a terrified kid is being pursued by his father, and a girl, Sally, pleads with Nathan to hide her from her parents. There is no internet, no television, no phone coverage.
Nathan, Lara and Sally flee along the East Coast, encountering madmen, terrorists, the armed forces, and other children frightened for their lives. The only thing Nathan knows for sure is that he must not fall asleep…
Praise for When the Children Come…
“A fantastic and original premise…flashes of Stephen King and MR Carey.” Tom Witcomb
“A nicely taut thriller, with a Lee Child feel to its staccato writing and strong action sequences, and a high concept stretching the novel into true science fiction territory.” Amanda Rutter
“Not just a page-turner – all in all a fabulous novel, which I was sad to finish.” Loulou Brown