Book Club Guide—Overthrown, by Judd Vowell


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30307825If the name on the cover of this novel seems familiar, that’s because the author and I share it. First-time novelist Judd Vowell is my brother. There it is, right up front: full disclosure. Family ties aside, I have standards in my reading recommendations—high ones—and this apocalyptic page-turner passes muster, no matter that I happen to have grown up with its writer. Overthrown is the kind of novel you hope never comes true, and yet can’t help but wonder if it might. With the threat of cyberterrorism constantly looming in our 21st-century world, are we just a few clicks from complete collapse? The plot of Overthrown forces us to consider our growing dependence on technology and confront the frightening prospects of a civilization without it. The novel presents a war of the worlds scenario, between a highly developed hacker group called ANTI- and everyone else. But it also focuses on a family brought closer together by their urge to survive. Gordon and Meg and their twins, Jessica and Henry, prove that love can conquer a lot. But can it keep them alive? My own book club read Overthrown last month, and these are just some of the questions and issues that arose during our long, spirited discussion.

Family Ties:

Jessica sees herself as the protector of her twin brother, Henry, before the Great Dark and after. Why does she believe she must look out for him? Does Henry need her protection as much as she thinks he does?

Why does Dr. Raj give Meg a larger supply of medicine than usual just before the Great Dark takes over? Do you think he has any insight into what is about to happen, and how?

Apocalypse Now and Then:

How does this novel’s vision of an apocalypse compare with others you’ve read or thought about? (Consider Mccarthy’s The Road, Mandel’s Station Eleven, King’s The Stand, and so many more.)

How does the novel reveal our reliance on electricity? Technology? Communication?

In what ways is the novel a realistic portrayal of a potential apocalypse? Are there any aspects you find improbable (or that you hope couldn’t actually happen)?

Blurred Lines:

What is the ultimate goal of ANTI-? Is its mission misguided from the start, or does it get off track during the years of the Great Dark?

Is Salvador Sebastian the “savior” his name suggests? Do you see him as the novel’s hero or villain, or something in between?

Before the Great Dark, how did ANTI- attract followers into its movement? What do you think people found appealing about it?

Why is Jacob motivated by computer hacking? What initially entices him to join Sebastian and ANTI-?  How do his feelings change as he witnesses more and more of ANTI- at work?

Do you think the Lefty team at Camp Overlord stands a chance against ANTI-?