This is a great piece of speculative / alternate universe fiction. The year is 2023, but the landscape is a little different. The U.S. has devolved into a second Civil War between Union states in the north, and the New Confederated States of America in the south. While we don't learn the specifics of what the turning point was, it's clear that this Civil War is the result of present-day, real life events and ideologies. This includes racial tensions, gun laws and mass shootings, and illusions to a "day of sedition" that bears a resemblance to the January 6th insurrection. Biden and Harris aren't mentioned by name, but when "President 46," dies, "Madame President" takes over leadership of the (union-side) U.S.A.
Forty year-old Hestia Harris is living in Baltimore, and working in a nursing home, where she's befriended an 80 year-old resident, Mildred, and her coworkers Ed and Sarah. Technically married, Hestia's husband left two years prior to join a Union paramilitary group, and she hasn't heard from him since. Her parents, on the other hand, are staunchly on the side of the Confederacy, making for a strained relationship at best, especially when they decide to leave Baltimore and more to southern Virginia.
Terrorist attacks are a regular occurrence, so people live by their "Conflicted" and "Safe Zones" apps, which give minute-by-minute general news alerts, and report on local violence. On top of that, Hestia is busy navigating the dating scene using dating apps. Much of the book centers on her dating life, her burgeoning friendships at work, and a rapidly disintegrating relationship with her parents - all with the backdrop of war and all the chaos that brings.
I was worried that the love-life storyline was going to feel too much like chick lit, but it is well balanced with political satire, and a smart, chillingly realistic portrayal of where we could be headed. And Hestia doesn't feel like your typical chick lit protagonist, either... She's quirky and funny, complex and flawed. She can be brutally honest, and also guarded at times, keeping all of her acquaintances at a safe distance.
That said, if you have made any forays into the world of online dating (especially if you're a woman with online dating experience), there's some great quotes about that too. A couple favorites of mine:
I half-heartedly browsed the dating sights, but every profile I saw had a sameness. Everyone loves to travel. Everyone loves to laugh. Everyone loves animals and nature and food, or at least they say they do, and nobody likes drama. "But do you really love to laugh?" I heard myself ask out loud.
I asked if Sarah seemed all right with the breakup, and Mildred said, "They're all impossible." "All who?" I asked. "All the trifling boys," she said.
All in all, I really liked this book, despite its unsettling premise, which felt a little too close to reality for comfort!
UP NEXT: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin