Title: Hell Followed with Us
Author: Andrew Joseph White
Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Length: 412 Pages
Category: YA, Fantasy, Monster Fiction
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: Hell Followed with Us is not my story. I will never know firsthand what it means, or feels like, to walk in Benji’s shoes. That doesn’t mean I can’t love him, though, and I did. Immensely. This book is an absolute must-read.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.
But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.
Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.
Review: In the Acknowledgments of Hell Followed with Us, Andrew Joseph White confesses that his debut novel “began life as a fit of rage.” This is noteworthy because that rage bleeds from every drop of e-ink and every word he accumulated that coalesced into this staggering, powerful, and beautiful story. It’s also worth noting that embedded in that rage are things—horrors and violence—which some readers may find triggering, so be aware these characters do no go gentle into that good night, metaphorically speaking. The takeaway for the teens this story is aimed at is in the fight, the one that means Benji has the human-borne right to simply . . . be.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world centered in the Book of Revelation. Benji can quote the Good Book chapter and verse, and the author is deft in his use of those verses to show us how Benji manifested into who he is and what he was forced by his own mother to become, in the name of holy indoctrination. The radical Evangelicals, the unquestionable villains of the story, those who cloak hate and bigotry in their definition of righteousness, developed a plague called the Flood that wiped out masses of the human population. Those who were non-believers, those who refused to bend the knee and repent and join the army of Angels whose single end-goal is Ascension, suffered the hypocrisy of fevered dogma. The message of the story is clear: Assimilate or die. Submit or die. Comply or die. Benji and his found family choose to fight for the chance to live their own truth.
Hell Followed with Us is not my story. I will never know firsthand what it means, or feels like, to walk in Benji’s shoes. That doesn’t mean I can’t love him, though, and I did. Immensely. It also doesn’t mean that I couldn’t grasp the rage that inspired his story. There shouldn’t be courage in merely existing, but there is so much bravery to behold, and every queer and questioning teen deserves to see something of themselves represented in strong, positive, and affirming ways. That is this novel. Andrew Joseph White delivers hope and encouragement to his readers, though it was a hard-won battle. The tension and strife as Benji leads a cast of diverse characters who become friends and family, and love and accept him unconditionally—something his own mother refused to do—plays out brilliantly from beginning to end.
Through betrayal, through the death of his loving and accepting dad, through baring his secrets despite the fear of being rejected, but doing it anyway in order to live his truth, Benji exemplifies strength and conviction. Hell Followed with Us is an absolute must-read.
You can buy Hell Followed with Us here: