What We Need to Survive – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 / 5 stars)

A plague has struck down society, and only a handful of people remain, wandering across the country, just trying to survive. When Paul comes across a group of travelers in his own quest for survival, he is immediately struck down by a quiet young woman named Nina. But, the idea of pursuing romance is hard to fathom in a world turned on its head. But perhaps, maybe a bit of love is what he and Nina both need to survive in a world turned upside.

Elena Johansen is a talented writer that paints a picture of a world marked by a plague (notably much worse than our current Covid-19), where groups form with the pure need of survival. This is not a story about the scientists ending the plague, or some zombie fighters, or even people forming a new society; no, this is almost a slice of life in a dystopian world. It’s about people surviving, and it’s about people falling in love.

Romance as a genre is harder for me to really enjoy. It’s just not my thing. I will read romance, but usually that is limited to short novels and short stories. So already, romance has a bigger hurdle to cross. Fundamentally, this book is good. If you like romance, you’ll love the slow burn romance that starts as a flicker and turns into a fire between Paul and Nina. I like slow burn too, but from a personal standpoint, I need a bit more external plot to go along with it. Paul is an absolute sweetheart, and Johansen captures his voice to the point I could hear it in my head, and Nina is a young woman who has gone through far too much, equally shown with such care. Their equals; their friends; and you’ll fall in love with their romance too.

But, for me, the book meandered a bit too much. Once Nina and Paul’s flicker ignites, the story continues meandering as the group tries to survive in this apocalyptic scenario. For about 20% of the book, nothing much happens except for the group preparing for the winter, and consistent anger from the “antagonist-type” character, Allison.

Speaking of Allison, I would like to take note of her character, so spoiler warnings ahead.

Allison is placed as almost an antagonist from the beginning. She flirts with Paul from the get-go, even after Paul explicitly shows interest in Nina. Her desires are almost criminalized, and she is shown nothing more than as a bitter woman. With what ultimately becomes of her, I wish we had seen a different side other than this sex-driven caricature. Evidentially there was more to her: she was lonely and desired far more. I definitely would have liked to understand more to her story.

Yet, the story overall is good. I can tell it’s a good story. It’s just not one of my favorite genres. In fact, if it was a bit shorter, I might have rated it higher. But that is all a personal opinion.

That being said, if you love a heavy romance story, and are interested in a slice-of-life story in an apocalyptic world, definitely check this book out. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.

What’s it about?

After the plague, the world became a web of silent roads stretching between empty towns.

Paul discovered he had a knack for living on the move, finding supplies and trading them with other survivors, never staying long in one place, or with one person. But he wanted to. Life would be easier with someone to watch his back.

Nina found her own way to survive in the ruined world, but the choices she made left her guarded and mistrustful. Not a woman likely to care for a handsome stranger who falls in with her group of survivors.

Attraction can be ignored, and trust has to be earned. But the days spent searching for food and shelter, and the nights spent keeping watch, don’t satisfy their truest need…

Each other.

When danger is never far away, is love a luxury they can’t afford? What We Need to Survive captures the tension, fear, and hope of two people struggling to build a new way of life from the leftovers of the old, deciding what to hold on to, and what to leave behind.

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