In Susan Currie’s contemporary teen novel Iz the Apocalypse, readers meet Isabelle Beaufort, an eighth grader within the foster care system. In her 14 years, Iz has already been shuttled between 26 foster homes and 14 different schools. Currently enrolled in the public school system, Iz lives with foster parent Pat, a rather placid yet kindly woman who is kept preoccupied by her daughter Britnee’s extensive wedding preparations.
While attending a performance with classmates one day, Iz finds her life’s direction changed upon experiencing the electrifying musical prowess of the student ensemble Manifesto, from local, prestigious music academy The Métier School. As a quietly self-taught guitar player and aspiring songwriter with raw vocal power and a soon-to-be-discovered gifted ear for musical talent, Iz finds a surprisingly determined spark lit within her. She decides that she must take matters into her own hands and secretly secure a coveted spot at Métier and within Manifesto.
Readers will be asked to suspend various levels of disbelief as Iz successfully bests – at least for a period of time – Pat, her case worker, multiple professors, and the administrative systems of two schools as she begins at Métier. There are serious repercussions, however, when Iz’s lies of omission and poor judgment calls catch up to her, and Currie takes readers on an educative yet heartbreaking view through stages of sanctions and punishment within foster care and youth sentencing. Even as Iz’s trajectory takes a serious dive, and amid fallout with certain individuals, there are beautifully woven threads of unyielding support in the form of mentors, professors, newly made friends at Métier, and select community members who take a vested interest in seeing Iz survive and flourish.
Currie’s writing is genuinely engaging and does very well in balancing the exhilarating, sometimes dystopian angles of Iz’s musical journey with the day-to-day realities of trying to cope as a young girl in unfathomably difficult circumstances. The writing is at its sharpest and most poignant not only during highly focused music scenes – particularly in Iz’s exploration of composer Franz Schubert’s Winterreise and “Erlkönig” – but also when readers are shown the bureaucracy entrenched in social and educational systems.
Due to Iz’s age and accompanying emotional tensions, the novel may land more solidly with an upper middle-grade readership, but overall, this is a highly readable, affecting story of an exceptional young teen, centred around music and second chances.