The Things That Keep Us Here

by Carla Buckley

(very good; top 50% of SciThri)

Year published: 2010
Category: science thriller (sort of)

Tech rating (out of 5):


The next “great” flu pandemic finally strikes. As plague and winter descend on Columbus, Ohio, human activity grinds to a halt. One family struggles to survive, forced by circumstances to choose between what is right and what is practical.

Their marriage shaken by the death of their infant son years ago, Peter and Ann Brooks recently separated. Ann cares for their two elementary-school age daughters; Peter works as a veterinarian/scientist at the university. Peter is tracking the spread of avian influenza (bird flu) in remote lakes in central Ohio. When he finds a dead flock of hundreds of ducks, he knows the virus has landed in the heartland. Soon the deadly virus changes and makes the jump into humans. Peter and one of his students, a beautiful young woman from Egypt, take refuge in Ann’s suburban house with the girls.

This book is unusual among global disaster/pandemic thrillers in keeping a tight, chillingly claustrophobic focus on one family cut off from the world in one house while unseen horrors evolve around them. Primarily written from the perspective of a mother trying to protect her children, The Things That Keep Us Here will make you wonder, what would I do?


The Things That Keep Us Here is a novel with an effective twist on a recurrent thriller theme: epidemic disease. Buckley’s debut has only minimal scientific content (what there is, is accurate; my biohazard rating in this case reflects amount of science, not the quality). It mentions the big picture (government actions, riots, death on an unimaginable scale, mass graves) only in passing. The focus is on how all this plays out for one awkward family stuck together under one snowy roof as all the supports of civilization that we take for granted gradually collapse. The dilemmas they face are practical, social, and moral.

This is a book that I couldn’t help but project myself into, making it both compelling and uncomfortable to read.

I had a hard time deciding how to rate this novel. It is by no means a conventional thriller or tale of infectious disease disaster, but it is a page-turner. For days after finishing the book, it still haunted my thoughts. Maybe that’s because I’m a mother. Maybe that’s because Carla Buckley has touched a potential reality that most of us prefer to deny or ignore. I look forward to reading her next book and watching her develop as a writer.

If this book freaked you out and you want to prepare, here are some websites:
Survive the Flu; FEMA Are You Ready?; Centers for Disease Control preparedness