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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.

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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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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Severance.

Why I love it

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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Member ratings (6,149)

  • Isaac W.

    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 story...it’s a wonder to read!

  • Rachael H.

    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.

  • Elle W.

    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.

  • Miscelleana T.

    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.

  • Laura D.

    Sandy, UT

    It’s about perseverance and being creatures of habit even when everything else fights against us. It’s a charming, satirical and odd book. I enjoyed it but don’t think I could get anyone to read it.