Blythe Woolston | MARTians

Life is bleak in the future Zoë Zindleman inhabits.

Books & Writers
“Your smile is the welcome mat.”

Life is bleak in the future Zoë Zindleman inhabits. Although she’s a math whiz, especially deft at ratios and percentages, she’s unprepared for the day her school closes because the governor has privatized what’s left of the public school system.

In addition to an e-tificate of graduation, her teacher gives her a worn copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. “There was a time, Zoë, when a student like you would be going to university – a real university – after graduation.”

Instead, because she learned her lessons well, she’s invited to apply for entry-level positions at both AllMART (where “your smile is the welcome mat”) and Q-MART (the competing mega-merchandiser).

On the day she graduates, her mother, AnnaMom, announces she’s leaving to look for work elsewhere, and Zoë (whose name means “life”) must stay behind in their foreclosed house in an empty housing development, “the last person in the last living house in Terra Incognita.”

So she moves into the Warren – a deserted strip mall close to her new employer – with other “left behinds,” and helps take care of abandoned boy 5er when she’s not working at AllMART.

She learns how to survive: “Don’t surveil the surveillance!”

And how to direct customers to desired products: “Wanting is only human. Humans are only wants. My purpose is to see tiny seeds of wanting that I can magnify and satisfy.”

Although Woolston writes for teenagers, the future she envisions should terrify readers of any age. Kirkus Reviews describes it as “a gorgeous and gut-wrenchingly familiar depiction of the entropic fragmentation of society.”

The Billings writer’s debut young-adult novel, The Freak Observer, won the William C. Morris Award. Black Helicopters received a High Plains Book Award and was named a Montana Book Award honor book.

– Kristi Niemeyer