How I Saved the World in a Week – Polly Ho-Yen

Illustrations – George Ermos

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” I couldn’t get this Joseph Heller quote out of my head when I was reading this book. Billy’s mother, Sylvia, teaches him survival skills every chance she gets. Never mind that a lot of the time this preparation takes place during school hours. 

‘You have to be ready.’

‘Ready for what?’ 

While he loves spending time with his mother and learning new skills, like how to make fire without a match, Billy doesn’t love needing to change schools regularly. 

I mean, what’s the point in trying to get to know someone when you might disappear at any moment?

He also misses his father, who he hasn’t seen for years.

When people start turning grey, Billy starts to think that this is what his mother has been preparing him for. Only his father won’t believe him, believing instead that Sylvia’s preoccupation with teaching her son survival skills is merely a symptom of her mental illness. 

I wouldn’t, couldn’t, believe that everything Sylvia had taught me was all for nothing. 

Thankfully, Billy is about to meet Anwar, who is enthusiastic and loves conducting experiments, and Angharad, who’s loyal but isn’t always that great at keeping her promises (you’ll forgive her for breaking the ones she does, though). His new friends believe Billy about the Greys because they’re kids, so thankfully they haven’t yet learned to disbelieve the unbelievable. 

I think: this is what friends are to each other – someone who knows, without you having to explain, that right at that moment all you need is their help. 

Although it’s not mentioned in the author’s note at the end of the book, I got the feeling this book was written, at least in part, during the pandemic. Especially when I read sentences like this: 

It’s like we’re cut off from the world even though we’re surrounded by people. 

The resolution was a bit too easy and neat for my liking but, taking into consideration the fact that I’m decades older than the target audience, my thoughts on this aren’t especially relevant. If I’d read this book when I was a kid I would have needed everything to work out the way it did.

Although there’s plenty of action, at its heart, this book is about hope, resilience and having trusted people you can rely on. 

‘This thing happening, it shows us the things that are really important. The things that really matter. Everything else … everything else just drops away.’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Rule number one: Always be prepared …

Billy’s mum isn’t like other mums. All she wants is to teach him the Rules of Survival – how to make fire, build shelter and find food. She likes to test Billy on the rules until one day she goes too far, and Billy is sent to live with a dad he barely knows.

Then the world changes forever as people begin to be infected with a mysterious virus that turns their skin grey. As chaos breaks out, Billy has to flee the city. Suddenly he realises that this is what his mum was preparing him for – not just to save his family, but to save the whole world.

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