Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White
A furious debut novel from Andrew Joseph White about embracing the monster within and unleashing its power against your oppressors. Perfect for fans of Gideon the Ninth and Annihilation.
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.
But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.
Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.
TITLE: Hell Followed with Us
AUTHOR: Andrew Joseph White with Shaan Dasani (Narrator), Graham Halstead (Narrator), Avi Roque (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Listening Library
LENGTH: 416 pages (10 hours 48 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Horror, Science Fiction
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s), Trans Main Character(s), Closeted/Questioning Secondary Character(s), Ace/Aro Secondary Character(s).
HELL FOLLOWED WITH US is the story of a trans boy during the apocalypse, trying to avoid turning into a biblically accurate angel; a creature of such mind-bending grotesquery and body horror that any conversation is required to start with “be not afraid” so that the other person hopefully doesn't run away screaming.
For some people there is body horror inherent in transness or in dysphoria, in the inexorable change of flesh into a form you’ve seen elsewhere but are utterly unable to recognize as yours. HELL FOLLOWED WITH US deals with themes of monstrosity and transness by embracing their connections during an apocalypse launched by evangelical Christians (a horrifyingly effective homophobic/transphobic/misogynistic death cult). It stars Benji, a teenage trans boy who is uninterested in most of the superficial trappings of masculinity because he’s going to be a decaying monster within a month anyway, his form utterly distorted beyond anything even the best binder could contain.
There are strong themes of religious abuse, body horror, transphobia, and dysphoria. The short version is I love how HELL FOLLOWED WITH US engages with these topics, but please take care of yourselves.
The worldbuilding is a little fuzzy on how exactly this plague started, waiting until late in the book to make explicit what happened. I'm fine with this, I love this immersive style of worldbuilding which assumes the reader has at least some baseline knowledge of the setting. Some readers might want a bit more clarity on how this all started, but I think an early reveal would have taken away from the urgency of Benji's current problems. The cult used the plague to kill most of the world, and now the survivors have to figure out how to get through what's next.
Benji is making the most of his final days by helping his newly-found companions from the ALC (a queer community center) fight off the Angels and try to get enough food to survive, all while trying to hide the changes in his body. Nick is a co-leader of the ALC, an infrequent narrator in the story but a consistent presence in Benji's thoughts. Nick is one of the few people outside the cult who knows what's been done to Benji and what he's turning into. Theo is the fiancé Benji left behind, kicked out of the Angels (the cult's warriors/enforcers) after the rest of his squad was killed. Benji is still in love with him even after fleeing, not yet ready to leave this one (usually) good part of his life behind.
I love the way this engages with body horror and transness without shying away from either, or from the way they can blur into each other. It's about Benji's relationship to his body and a loss of control over what it's doing and what people think when they see him. He needs people to see that he's a boy and a person, no matter what his flesh is doing.
There’s a subtle detail which I appreciate, where even though (broadly speaking) the death cult Benji escaped is transphobic and sexist as an institution, whereas the kids at the ALC are queer and accepting that’s not a hard and fast distinction for every individual member of either group. It allows for something more nuanced, messier and realistic. In a book with a trans main character it would have been easy (and boring) to make all the villains (and only the villains) be transphobic. This doesn’t do that, and it’s glorious.
The story begins with Benji escaping, his father's blood on his face and terror in his heart while he's pursued by the Angels. Once he starts living in the ALC, Benji has to learn new terms for referring to the plague, the monsters, and the cult he left behind. Part of being in the cult for so long is that they have their own vocabulary for the terms which are important to them, most of which are meant to convey how amazing and good the destruction of the world and the genocide of most humans on the planet truly is. Many of the terms are pulled from the Bible, internally reinforcing the idea that everything that's happening is God-ordained and therefore, axiomatically, must be good (no matter how murderous). Conversely, the ALC's spin, such as it is, is that contagious abominations get called monsters, and that they don't want to die of the body-altering plague that the cult unleashed. Even though Benji has left the cult, the chapters begin with quotes from their speeches, writings, and their holy text texts. These help to immerse the reader in Benji's former headspace, the one which Theo still occupies.
If "trans boy is turning into a biblically accurate angel" didn't hook you, I don't know what will, but this book is amazing and you should read it.
Graphic/Explicit CW for transphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, fire/fire injury, vomit, gore, blood, violence, body horror, self harm, murder, child death, death.
Moderate CW for grief, cursing, sexism, misogyny, dysphoria, ableism, child abuse, toxic relationship, emotional abuse, domestic abuse, religious abuse, panic attacks/disorders, alcohol, gun violence, terminal illness, suicide attempt, genocide, parental death.
Minor CW for sexual content, pregnancy.
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