Until We Fall by Nicole Zelniker – A Review

Historically, dystopic fiction as a genre appears to have been dominated by white men. I name a Bradbury, an Orwell, a Huxley. Times have changed, and rightly so, for fiction about frightening and undesirable societies offers great opportunities for women, people of colour, and LGBTQA+ people to unpack the dangers of the present and envision their potential consequences for the future. Although dystopias make good stories, they can be so much more than just a narrative device, and function as a powerful socio-political tool. In her new novel Until We Fall, published by Jaded Ibis Press, Nicole Zelniker demonstrates just that.

Until We Fall tells the story of Isla, a black trans girl who is persecuted by the American government for her supposed engagement in revolutionary activity. Although she previously did not consider herself to be a political activist, the experience changes everything for her, and soon she finds herself to be part of a resistance movement which aims to fight back against the government’s aggressive implementation of its “family values”.

Sounds familiar? That’s because it is. Anyone who has been following the news – and frankly, you’d need to have made an active effort to miss this – will have noticed how American governments in recent years have implemented policies that are at best unhelpful and at worse life-threatening to an increasing proportion of their citizenry. One of the most recent examples is Texas’s controversial abortion law, which bans abortions after six weeks, and puts some of its most vulnerable residents at risk. Until We Fall‘s world is fictional but, sadly, it is not so far off from ours. In fact, it is where we could end up if we’re not careful.

While that message may sound depressing, the novel actually is not. Its optimism lies in its belief in the effectiveness of diversity, friendship and love as an antidote to toxic politics. The diverse cast, which most notably includes a black trans protagonist, come together to fight against the powers that strive for their eradication. According to their government they are outcasts, but this status also makes them a danger to the powers that be, especially when they combine their strengths to resist.

Although misogynist, racist, homophobic and transphobic politics can make one feel powerless and overwhelmed, Until We Fall shows that there is something we can all do to make a difference: reach out, connect, listen, and speak out against bigotry. One obvious way to do so is to read more books written by authors whose voices are so often ignored and discuss them with your friends, as well as your enemies. Especially with your enemies. Change will, of course, not happen overnight. But Until We Fall shows that it is possible and that, through fiction, we can begin to imagine a better world for all of us.

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