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Severance by Ling Ma


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Ling Ma, on your first book!
Once a year, we break our own rules and share a book from earlier in the year that wowed us.

by Ling Ma

Quick take

This inventive satire about the end of the world as we know it is one we just didn't want to miss in 2018.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

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  • Illustrated icon, Literary


  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Millenial


Illustrated icon, Icon_Challenging_Indicator


This is a satirical book with a non-chronological plot and very dark humor.

Why I love it

Siobhan Jones
BOTM Editorial Team

Look, I want to be a good book-mom here and say that I love all our selections equally. But the truth is, there are a few reads from this year that I absolutely adored—For Better and Worse and An American Marriage come to mind—above all the others. And the book I loved most of all in 2018, the queen of the stack (if you will), is Severance.

The story has two plotlines, a Before and After. Before: Candace Chen, a twenty-something year old in New York City, toils at a totally unglamorous book production job, so mired in the details of Bible manufacture (polyurethane and sateen, anyone?) that she doesn’t realize a sudden pandemic is ringing in the apocalypse. After: Candace and a ragtag group of survivors flee west, trying to avoid encounters with the 99% of the world that the plague has reduced to (harmless) zombies—and scavenging for food, pills, and marijuana.

I don’t normally dig post-apocalyptic books because they always seem to devolve into the same stomach-turning quagmires of lawlessness and starvation. But in Severance, the end of the world is signaled not by tribes of fearsome cannibals, but by the gradual dismantling of corporate life; emails go unanswered, office branches are closed, and one by one, the great tentpoles of capitalism fall. That’s why I loved this book—it’s not so much scary as absurd, and more thoughtful than action-driven. It’s I Am Legend for the plugged-in, globally conscious, thinking woman. I could not be more obsessed.

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Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. With the recent passing of her Chinese immigrant parents, she’s had her fill of uncertainty. She’s content just to carry on: She goes to work, troubleshoots the teen-targeted Gemstone Bible, watches movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend.

So Candace barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Her bosses enlist her as part of a dwindling skeleton crew with a big end-date payoff. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.

Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?

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Get an early look from the first pages of Severance.

Member thoughts

All (4918)
All (4918)
Love (1677)
Like (2431)
Dislike (810)
5064 ratings
  • 33% Love
  • 48% Like
  • 16% Dislike
  • Ypsilanti , MI

    Attempting a unique take on an old story doesn’t always work out - but I found this post-apocalytic tale relatable & interesting. The only downside is that we don’t get to see more of Candace’s story.

  • West Hollywood, CA

    I love it when a book transcends categorization! Yes it’s apocalyptic but it’s steeped in both Eastern & Western mythology & philosophy & it’s a love story and a ghost’s a wonder to read!

  • Holbrook, NY

    I love seeing & learning so much about different characters from different angles. Above all, it’s so absolutely beautifully written. You fall into the story so quickly & it’s just an amazing journey.

  • Boston, MA

    The wheels keep churning, but what’s the point when the world is ending? I loved the way this book handled the “end of the world”: just a slow slide down, with beautiful moments in spite of it all.

  • Seattle, WA

    Hands down tied for the best book I’ve ever received from BOTMC. It defies any single genre. Can be read and enjoyed at a surface-level, but also has lots to ponder and connect at a deeper level. LOVE

  • Tuscaloosa, AL

    This was definitely an atypical read. I really enjoyed how it prompted me to think about capitalism, immigration, & the American Dream set against an apocalyptic landscape. The ending wasn’t my fave.

  • Highland Park, NJ

    Very clever and interesting story. Realistic but still thought provoking, if at times depressingly realistic. Allcharacters are average and relatable but I still wanted to find out what happened next.

  • Madison, WI

    Impactful, reflective, and wonderfully introspective. It was pretty slow but I was obsessed with every single detail. A lovely portrayal of a woman’s connections to her community, city, and herself.

  • Costa Mesa, CA

    There is possible no more suitable a time than during COVID-19 to read this book. This surreal feeling seeped in as I read about a population learning to wear N95 masks, work going remote, infections

  • Commerce, GA

    I love reading postapocalyptic fiction, so this was a no brainer for me. It flips back & forth between the past and present, which I also like. I read this book in an afternoon because I couldnt stop.

  • Ridgeland, MS

    Reading this book in the midst of a global pandemic was both deeply unsettling and offered a hauntingly beautiful sense of u understanding and perspective. Well-written with great attention to voice.

  • Myrtle Beach , SC

    Everyone who loves reading post apocalyptic stories needs to read this. Its such an awesome book. I was hesitant of the type of story, because Im not first to pick up one like this, but it was awesome

  • New York, NY

    Read this book in one sitting! I was pretty riveted by the concept from page 1. I really enjoyed Ma's style juxtaposing the horror of the End w/ the everyday horrors of modern routine. Makes you think

  • Conrad, MT

    An apocalyptic tale that brought back flashes of Margaret Atwood's 'Edible Woman' and 'Surfacing'. The narrative is pleasant, marked by fine articulation of an elaborate writer, but thought provoking.

  • Houghton, MI

    I absolutely love this book and the way it was written. Poetic and thoughtful, it reads as the reflections of a character considering how she got "here". Its almost dreamlike in certain points. 10/10!

  • Georgetown, KY

    This book his a little too close to home as we are currently facing a pandemic. The Shen Fever that breaks out from China had similarities to what we are experiencing in real life with the Coronavirus

  • Brooklyn, NY

    The apocalypse but slow, bourgeois, critical, and creepy. No big explosions here. A moving immigrant narrative too. Incredible characters. A complicated protagonist. Clear, measured prose. A MUST READ

  • Queens, NY

    A smart portrayal of New York City, what living in today's world does to our minds and our routines, and what would happen if that world fell apart, plus insight into immigrant culture and capitalism.

  • las cruces, NM

    Miraculous.Apocalyptic goodness but laced with existential detail about our own lives and routines.I love the author's attention to detail with NYC, capitalism, and the culture that bleeds out into us

  • Alexandria, MN

    Who doesn't love apocalyptic tales set in modern day society?! However, this one has a slightly unique twist with a main character that seems quite oblivious to disasters actually happening. Amazing!

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