The prequel to the smash hit videogame The Last Of Us, American Dreams follows Ellie on her first day in a new school.
The remains of humanity are hunkered down behind fragile walls and panicked soldiers and Ellie has one job ahead of her when she graduates; joining the Army and holding the line whether she wants to or not. But when she meets Riley, she’s shown that there are other ways to live. If she can survive long enough to reach them…
There’s a trick this book pulls on the first page that works over and over again.
Hicks’ art is so inherently friendly, so expressive and relaxed and open that you feel at home right away. You relax and the moment you do, Druckmann’s script hits you, and Ellie, right between the eyes. There’s constant tension here in a way few books manage and it’s all down to that constant dissonance between style and subject matter.
That isn’t to say the art’s bad by the way, it’s great. Hicks is one of the best artists of her generation and you see that on every single page here. Ellie and Riley are both equal parts fragile and burly, innocent children with bloody knuckles who had no say in the world they’ve been born into.
Druckmann never lets us, or them, forget that for long and as they learn more about their world both girls discover there are no easy answers and no easy solutions. Life is survival now, and that’s all, and the only choice they have is how to do it.
There’s some moments of real sweetness here too. Riley and Ellie are an instantly endearing set of leads and the book is shot through with moments of quiet friendship and real beauty.
A horse ride around an abandoned mall, a brief flash of what life used to be like and Ellie’s unguarded, completely joyous smile all stay with you long after the book’s finished. But so does the first appearance of a Clicker, chillingly rendered Hicks and Rosenberg, who’s deep, rich colours perfectly evoke the quiet Earth the two girls have been born into. The message is clear; survival is a constant and one you can never take your eyes off for long.
This is considered, clever science fiction that any fan of the game should head straight for. If you’re undecided on the game, or have yet to play it like me, then this is for you too. It’s the perfect entry point to a beautiful, violent, broken world of The Last Of Us.
Thanks to TravellingMan.com for the review copy and for being a nice place, generally.