Review: Nil by Lynne Matson

Nil by Lynne Matson.

Published: March 4, 2014.
Published by: Henry Holt.
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Macmillan!

Goodreads Synopsis:
On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days--to escape, or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s lying naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.

My Review:

*Depending on how strict your definition of a spoiler is, you may find minor spoilers in this review*

My original interest in NIL came from my love of survival stories. Stories of human triumph over odds that seem overwhelming. That is what I wanted out of NIL. What I got was more than a survival story. This is a story about human connections and human strength and, most of all, about living each day without regrets. NIL is a story that I ended up rather emotionally invested in and that in the end I very much enjoyed.

The story itself is one that almost sounds as if it should be repetitive: survive on an island, day after day, until you get out or die. But Matson has done a wonderful job of creating conflicts and rituals and mysteries that don't allow for monotony. Each day holds some familiar challenges and some new ones, which gave the novel great pacing and flow. The main characters, Charley and Thad, were both, to me, very relatable with voices I enjoyed reading through and motivations I felt truth in. Also, though, there were side characters that were interesting and nuanced so that relationships beyond that between the main characters could develop and add to the story. I found the balance created in this story worked very well and certainly kept me reading.

One of my favourite parts of this novel is the way Charley and Thad's relationship develops. They have a dynamic that feels so familiar and so true to life. They have that fun back-and-forth on the outside but an inner insecurity when it comes to one another that I think so many people will recognize as honest and a common experience for many. I really enjoyed seeing both of them as distinct individuals become such a believable and enjoyable couple. I also was very impressed by how Matson dealt with the question of sex within their relationship. It is brought up and I felt that it was covered very well. Firstly, Charley is in control of her own sexual agency. She is the one who first asks about sex and she is comfortable in what she wants. Having a female main character so in control of her sexuality and so honest about it with her partner was really wonderful to read. Secondly, when Thad reacts to Charley's proposition, he doesn't shame her for what she wants and he makes a very smart decision that shows real thought and consideration for both himself and for Charley. I just found it was such an intelligent way to deal with it and overall sends a very positive message.

The actual island of Nil was also very well written, in my opinion. It appears at times to almost be a character itself as it seems to play games with the characters and whisper taunts with the wind. It was a fully developed world in and of itself, as well, with multiple vivid landscapes and some sense of structure to its ways. Learning the secrets of Nil was really interesting and part of me wishes that some of those details and elements had been explained and developed even further. I also wish there had been a little more explanation as to how the characters knew some of the things they did -- like how day 365 is your last -- but given the circumstances I would also understand if these teens had no idea where the knowledge came from, just that it has been passed down.

Overall, I was really impressed by this story. It had a lot working in its favour, including great characters and a well explored base idea. Nil is an intense, exciting and truly creative story that focuses not on simply surviving, but on truly living. 


  1. Wow, this one sounds like a total winner! I like that the relationship sounds like the author put a lot of thought into it and made it really unique to YA lit. Also, it sounds like the book is really exciting and who doesn't like exciting books?! Am I right? Great review lady!

    1. I really did find it a winner! I was so impressed by Matson's crafting of the relationship because it just felt so honest. And the book was really well paced and had plenty of exciting moments. Totally worth a read! And thank you! :)

  2. I came across this book in the bookstore but didn't know much about it so I didn't buy. Now I have to go back and get it! This sounds like a great books and I can no wait to read it :)

    1. Oh, you definitely should pick it up! I found so many excellent elements to it and I hope you enjoy it as well!


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