The Survival Game

Nicky Singer

The Survival Game
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The Survival Game

Nicky Singer

In a world full of checkpoints and controls, can love and hope defy the borders? A searing, timely story, as arresting as it is beautiful.

Mhairi Anne Bain owns only two things: a gun with no bullets and her identity papers. The world is a shell of what it once was. Now, you must prove yourself worthy of existence at every turn, at every border checkpoint. And if you are going to survive, your instincts will become your most valuable weapon.

Mhairi has learnt the importance of living her own story, of speaking to no one. But then she meets a young boy with no voice at all, and finds herself risking everything to take him to safety. And so Mhairi and the silent boy travel the road north. But there are rumours that things in Scotland have changed since she has been away.

What Mhairi finds there is shocking and heart-breaking, but might finally re-connect her to her sense of self and to the possibility of love. An extraordinary story about survival and what it costs, about the power of small kindnesses to change everything.


Mhairi is 14 and on a journey toward her grandmother’s home in Scotland. It’s the not-so-distant future. The ice-caps no longer form and countries have euthanasia policies in place for population control. This is a world of checkpoints and drones. Borders are protected by soldiers with machine guns and identity papers mean everything.

Mhairi has travelled huge distances and endured great trauma; her survival tactics reflect her desperate need to stay alive, whatever the cost. When a small boy joins her things change for Mhairi, and despite her wariness she finds herself doing everything she can to protect him too. Their battle to survive informs us that small, thoughtful acts can be lifesaving.

Much of Mhairi’s world will be already sadly familiar to readers who have been following our news cycle over the past few years. She walks great distances only to be met with hostility and spends time in harsh detention facilities. It is impossible to read this book without considering the present day treatment of, and attitudes toward, refugees. In this way readers are asked not only what would you do? but also what can you do? and what should we do?.

The Survival Game is a powerful and relevant read for mature teen readers. It has a truly startling ending that might bring on some tears.

Kim Gruschow is the children’s book buyer at Readings St Kilda.

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