Friday, November 20, 2020

Fiction Review: Leave the World Behind

After hearing lots of buzz (including as a pick for Read with Jenna on the Today Show Book Club) about the new release Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, I decided to listen to it on audio for my #RIP XV Challenge last month. This Finalist for the 2020 National Book Award in Fiction defies easy categorization, telling a unique story of a mysterious tragedy in the larger world while two families try to cope with its effects.

Amanda and Clay and their teen kids, Archie, 15, and Rose, 13, are fighting the traffic from NYC to Long Island for their summer vacation. Amanda found a great house online for them to rent for what is hoped to be a relaxing getaway. When they arrive, they are all pleased to find that it's a beautiful home, complete with swimming pool and hot tub, though a bit out of the way. The four of them settle in and enjoy their first 24 hours there, with a relaxed day at the beach and making themselves at home in the lovely house. A late night knock on the door breaks their peaceful respite, though. They open the door to find an older Black couple who explain that they are the owners of the home and just drove from the city (and their high-rise apartment) to escape a widespread blackout. George (G.H.) and Ruth tell Amanda and Clay that something has happened "out there" but they don't know what it is, and they ask if they can stay at the house, in the basement apartment, with the vacationing family. Reluctantly, Amanda and Clay let them in. After all, it is their house. But are they who they say they are? And are they exaggerating about this blackout emergency? Here on this remote part of the island, they still have power, though cell service, WiFi, and television have all gone out. The two families, cut off from everyone else (and truth be told, lost without their phones or WiFi), awkwardly begin to establish a new routine, as strange things start to happen in the glimpse of the larger world that they have from the house.

This is an original premise as clearly something big--but unidentified--is happening on a large scale but neither the characters nor the readers know what it is. It's an interesting and thoughtful character study, focused on the microcosm of the two families, strangers to each other, in the house while some mysterious tragedy is occurring in the wider world. There is plenty of tension here, especially toward the end, though some of the suspense comes from simply waiting for something to happen. It's a slow burn, filled with uncertainty, and the readers are as much in the dark as the characters. I enjoyed the audio book, narrated by Marin Ireland as Amanda, and was eager to find out what would happen next. More than anything, this unique novel is an intricate examination of human nature, especially when people are exposed to unexpected pressures. 

256 pages, Ecco


From the Today Show website, here are 9 Questions to Consider After Reading "Leave the World Behind" (yes, best left for after you read the book).

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/ordownload it from Audible.


Or get this audiobook from and support local bookstores (audio sample here, too).


Print and e-book from Amazon.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!



  1. Waiting my turn for the library audio download - sounds good.

  2. I'm hearing quite a buzz about this one, it's so interesting how books do the cycles of blogs and newspapers.

    1. Yes, it's been on a lot of lists - I think its pick for the Today show book club helped!