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Book Review of MARY: Adrift in the Sea of Sorrow by Kate Cunningham

by Marie Sinadjan 2 months ago in product review
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A young adult dystopian fiction. Warning for scenes relating to a pandemic, and some violence.

Mary lives in her locked white room – alone apart from the testers who take samples from her.

Vander has lived through the Red Plague and seen the choices families had to make to survive.

When they meet their actions will trigger events that spiral out of their control and change countless lives.

They must decide what price to put on freedom.

GENRE: YA Dystopian Fiction


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Cunningham has worked for a development charity and as a primary teacher. She now writes books that are either directly about history, or inspired by events from the past.

Review & Recommended Listening

This book contains scenes relating to a pandemic, and some violence, including the use of guns. The author sufficiently warns readers of this (except the gun part, but violence is mentioned in the general sense) on the back after the blurb, and even on the Acknowledgments page (though that’s also at the tail end of the book). The blurb also explicitly mentions the word plague, and we see the biohazard symbol (☣️) on the front and back covers as well as the chapter headers. So hopefully the author isn’t given any bad reviews just for writing about a triggery subject!

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the physical attractiveness of the book. I mention this in this particular review because I read off a paperback copy instead of my usual digital means, and the book is lovely. I love the size, the font, the chapter headers, and the texture of the cover and pages. It seems long at 89 chapters plus an epilogue in the form of a memo, but some of the chapters are actually just one-pagers, totaling around 305 pages. The line spacing is good and I don’t remember having to read blocks and blocks of text. And because this is a young adult book, the prose is straightforward but compelling, so it was very much an easy read.

The story was inspired by Mary Mallon, a.k.a. Typhoid Mary, and was actually written pre-pandemic. Even if it might hit close to home in this day and age, it got me hooked and kept me on the edge of my seat. For one, the post-pandemic world the author had built was a frightening possibility. I’d previously seen a take on a dystopian world where large companies went on to rule so to speak, but Kate had crafted a different – but just as horrible – future for this story. A+ worldbuilding right there, and there’s so much potential for sequels and spin-offs. (Was the memo at the end a hint? HMMM.)

The story went to unexpected places in a lot of parts, and I honestly would’ve never guessed the ending. Mary was also a strange character for a protagonist. She’s interesting and complex for sure, but like a virus she was rather unpredictable, an enigma. The people around her were more relatable and more human – but I think that was actually the point. To have a whole ensemble of characters to root for, and maybe even to envision ourselves as, if we were plunged into the same circumstances. To ask ourselves the same questions: How far would we go to save our family? What does freedom truly mean? What price are we willing to pay for our survival?

The only thing that bothered me was the amount of head-hopping between the characters, which sometimes happened only after a few sentences. But it wasn’t distracting enough for me to put the book down. For a story that had a lot of traveling around and waiting, it didn’t drag or get boring. I thought the chat transcripts and memos were a nice touch, too.

If you like young adult dystopian fiction, you might want to give this book a try! And if you sign up for Kate’s newsletter, you can get a free copy of Fix, a short story about the character with the same name. 😉

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Recommended Listening: As I mentioned in my open call for books to review, I’ll now be adding a song to my reviews! It’ll be one that either sums up the book for me, or what I’d imagine in a trailer were it a movie… or maybe even an original inspired by it 😉

Cause it’s all white noise swallowing me

Taking your high horse and I’ll be free

Cause it’s all white noise swallowing me

Maybe we’ll know why eventually

Cause it’s all white noise swallowing me


product review

About the author

Marie Sinadjan

Filipino author, singer-songwriter and theatre actress. Loves writing fantasy short stories, composing songs for books, and reading SFF and YA. Also writes romance, horror and scifi. Married and based in the UK.

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