Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Severance” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.84  ·  Rating details ·  13,108 ratings  ·  2,134 reviews
Maybe it's the end of the world, but not for Candace Chen, a millennial, first-generation American and office drone meandering her way into adulthood in Ling Ma's offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire, Severance.

Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. With the recent passing of her Chinese immigrant parents,
Paperback, 293 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Picador USA (first published August 14th 2018)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Severance, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Jeri Paull Heh, exactly what I'm doing right now, being sucked into the internet. Heh, exactly what I'm doing right now, being sucked into the internet. Heh,…moreHeh, exactly what I'm doing right now, being sucked into the internet. Heh, exactly what I'm doing right now, being sucked into the internet. Heh, exactly what I'm doing right now, being sucked into the internet. Wait - what was the question? (less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  13,108 ratings  ·  2,134 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written post-apocalyptic story that goes back and forth between a woman in the world after an epidemic wipes out most of humanity and everything in her life leading up to it. Very compelling, nuanced protagonist. Maddening ending that could be stronger.
4.5 stars

This book stopped me right in my tracks - literally. I read it in the span of five hours; I could not put it down. In Severance, Ling Ma shares the story of Candace Chen, a self-described millennial worker drone who spends much of her life sequestered in a Manhattan office tower. With both of her parents recently deceased and no other family or close friends, she has little else to do, aside from going to work and watching movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend. Candace thus
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

An apocalyptic satire about the global onset of Shen Fever, a plague that turns people into mindless drones, Severance follows Candace Chen as she attempts to navigate a world stripped of choice and feeling. In the main plot, Candace joins a group of survivors trying to reach a safe haven from the fever in Chicago. Along the way, Candace struggles to conceal a secret about her health, while also trying not to quarre
I must be in the minority because this book fell flat for me and the ending was a huge let down.
Jessica Sullivan
I feel like this book was written just for me. It’s a post-apocalyptic anti-capitalist office satire that explores so many of the themes that resonate with millennials like myself.

Candace is one of the few survivors of Shen Fever, an epidemic that turns people into non-violent zombies condemned to repeat rote tasks over and over again until they slip into fatal unconsciousness. (You can sense the metaphor already, I’m sure.)

For a few months, Candace stays on at her office job—one of the few pe
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cindy Pham
I relate a lot to the millenial experience of banality and monotony under capitalism; in fact, I could easily see myself in the same position as the main character, where I still go to work despite the death around me. I like that the zombie apocalypse is different in the sense that it is non-violent, and more so a mindless depiction of people following the same routine over and over again. I also appreciate the additional layer of the immigrant narrative and how the main character's feeling of ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are a lot of elements from Severance that we've all seen before - the global pandemic which brings an abrupt halt to civilization as we know it, the few survivors trying to forge ahead in the absence of a structured society, the juxtaposition of before and after narratives. But the similarities to Station Eleven or Bird Box end there, because what Ling Ma does with Severance is fuse the post-apocalyptic survival genre with anti-capitalist satire, and it works almost startlingly well.

Both w
Jenny (Reading Envy)
So I think this book is a case of the sum being greater than its parts. If you take it apart too much all it is is pieces that have been done before, apocalypse cliches, etc. But somehow the arrangement of the parts and the point of view make it a more enjoyable read for me than I would have expected if someone like Bob had mansplained it to me (ugh his character is so annoying and not even charismatic to pull of leading a group at the end of the world.)

Still I'm not sure it's likely to stick wi
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
🌟 ⭐ 🌟⭐ 🌟⭐ 🌟⭐ 🌟⭐

"After the End came the Beginning. And in the Beginning, there were eight of us, then nine—that was me—a number that would only decrease."

In our modern world with antibiotics, anti-viral drugs, anti-fungicides, and vaccines, we sometimes forget that for most of human history, people routinely died of illnesses that today we can easily treat and cure. People used to die all the time from an abscess tooth! However, we now feel quite comfortable that in the event of an epidemic, s
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a slow burn for me, but once I got to the last 100 pages I couldn't stop. This is the first time I've connected personally with a protagonist in a long time, and whether or not you're a "millennial" this book is more important than the trendy book cover color would lead you to believe.
Carol (Bookaria)
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, 2019, fiction
This is an introspective, character-driven novel. I was hesitant to pick it up but I’m glad I did.

The story follows Candace Chen as she navigates life in post-apocalyptic America. The world has succumbed to the “fever” and those who have caught it are called “fevered”.

A large part of the story takes place in NYC where Candace used to work for a publishing company, and it alternates between the present post-apocalyptic America, and the time before the epidemic arrived.

The novel moves at a slow pa
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Think of Severance as a stack of matryoshka dolls—an office satire inside a post-apocalyptic road trip inside an immigrant experience inside a millennial coming-of-age story inside an anti-capitalism tale. And if that sounds complicated – well, it isn’t. It all works together beautifully and the book seems eminently credible, even when it’s pushing the limits of fantasy.

So here are the “bones” of the story: a millennial named Candace Chen has fallen into a monotonous job, coordinating the produc
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read, usa
Winner of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction 2018
Ever wondered about the connection between globalization, your office job and the zombie apocalypse? Well, no worries, Ling Ma figured that out for you. Her debut novel is a mixture between immigrant family story, corporate satire, and a dystopia about a global health crisis - and while the text might not be flawless, it sure is addictive and intriguing.

Twentysomething Candace Chen, who immigrated to the US with her family as a child and is now orphane
Michael Ferro
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
SEVERANCE is a very well-balanced novel, seamlessly blending dry wit, apocalyptic end games, and a unique character study. Following a young woman as she travels by caravan from a deserted New York City to the outskirts of Chicago, this book deftly blends different tones from the dark and dreary, to the heartwarming and hilarious. The humor is certainly not for everyone and tends to bend towards the bone dry, but it perfectly matches the main character of Candace, a young Chinese immigrant who a ...more

I can't get enough of these Millennial Malaise novels at the moment. So much so, I really want to host a dinner party with Candace, Janice ( The Ice Shelf) and the unnamed protagonist from My Year of Rest and Relaxation . These are my kind of women.

Candace a child of Chinese immigrants is a disaffected New York millennial, college educated with no career in sight, she spends her days in coffee shops, or wandering directionless, pessimistic about life and considering the impending apocaly
Diane S ☔
Dnf at 20%. Probably me, just not feeling this. Lacking the patience or will to continue.
Book of the Month
Why I love it
by Siobhan Jones

Look, I want to be a good book-mom here and say that I love all our selections equally. But the truth is, there are a few reads from this year that I absolutely adored— For Better and Worse and An American Marriage come to mind—above all the others. And the book I loved most of all in 2018, the queen of the stack (if you will), is Severance.

The story has two plotlines, a Before and After. Before: Candace Chen, a twenty-something year old in New York City, toils at
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2019
I really enjoyed this oddball dystopian novel about a young woman in NYC soldiering on while the world around her succumbs to a deadly plague. “Shen Fever” is a fungal infection originated in China, which is transmitted by breathing in fungal spores. The symptoms initially mimic those of the common cold, but the disease quickly causes its victims (called Fevered) to become blank-faced automons, repeating rote everyday tasks until they eventually waste away from malnourishment, lose consciousness ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Boy howdy, I ripped right through this little piece of dystopian apocalyptic romance(?) coming-of-age story. I liked a lot of what was going on here. It took what could have been your basic, run-of-the-mill end of the world story, and it added some depth and layers to it. Well, the author did that. I should say she added those things.

The story bounces around in a nonlinear format so sometimes I found myself in a small band of Walking Dead-like survivors trying to... survive. Sometimes I jumped
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Who knew that a book about a fever outbreak crippling civilization could be SO dull? Ling Ma has talent, but this book was so haphazard and incredibly boring. It was so infuriating reading about Candace's naivety; there were multiple instances where I uttered, "she is so dumb!" while reading about her motives and inner dialogue. All the characters were mere sketches, I honestly couldn't tell you anything more than the role they play in advancing the narrative (the 'survivors' had no distinguishi ...more
Peter Boyle
Severance is what you might call a literary zombie novel, except that the zombies are peaceful. As post-apocalyptic stories go, it's more Station Eleven than I Am Legend. Low on thrills, but wistful, and loaded with smart satire.

The year is 2011, and Candace Chen is a successful project manager for a New York publisher. Her job is only a means to an end. Photography is her real love, but these days it's more of a part-time hobby than an all-consuming passion. Her boyfriend Jonathan plans to leav
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poc-author
3.5 stars

Watch me talk about this book in my December wrap up:
David Yoon
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's the zombie apocalypse but the mindless, infected hordes this time aren't craving human brains but are instead locked in an endless loop of familiar and comforting patterns. Setting the table for example, or trying on outfits, over and over and over again.

In that sense, Candace barely differs from the infected. As the city vacates around her and more and more people succumb to the fever, she is stuck in her own routine. She continues to punch a clock, and put in her time at an increasingly e
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-favorites
A riveting, thought provoking novel about a millennial woman living and working in New York when an apocalyptic event occurs. This novel defies categorization or simple summaries. Ling Ma taps into the anxieties of our era brilliantly and held me captive for 291 pages.
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story about many things:
on where your home is (Candace really likes being in New York, and then of course there's the everyone wanting to go 'home' when the Fever really spreads - in Bob's case, the mall (view spoiler) called by him The Facility)
where you belong, come from (in Candace's case there's the connections to China, memories of Salt Lake City childhood, plus then how her parents feel about new land and old home)
the plague (Shen Fever, which le
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, when I started reading this one, I wasn’t sure. I was getting shades of Station Eleven (a.k.a the book most of the world loved and I did not a.k.a. 2 Pretentious Apocalyptic Fiction). I actually stopped reading it for a bit and almost deleted it. But, I returned to it and I’m glad I did.

There’s an art to this one that takes a bit to kick in. The story is told both pre and post apoc – all from the POV of Candace Chen. She’s a self -described Millennial Drone and she seems to fit every Millenn
Robin Bonne
3.5 Stars. I have conflicting feelings about this book. The beginning was exciting, then the story slowed down during the flashbacks from before the fever epidemic. The action picked up again towards the last third of the book, and the flashbacks were significantly better. The ending was unfulfilling for me, and I was left wanting more resolution.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy of this ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.
Lark Benobi
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, she-2019
This one landed like a flat mylar balloon for me. The combination of a detached narrative voice plus the strangely muted descriptions of this particular vision of apocalypse deflated my enthusiasm. I suppose it’s part of the satire that the tiny band of survivors here are all regular joes who lack imagination, but their lack of any real alarm, as civilization collapses all around them, left me feeling uninvolved rather than amused.

For apocalyptic zombie satire, I preferred Zone One by Colson Wh
#RWLChallenge: A satire written by a person of colour.

Thank you, next.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Open request - Please correct page count - Severance 5 16 May 24, 2019 06:11PM  
Prize Readers: 2019 TOB Longlist: Severance 1 14 Dec 12, 2018 08:08AM  
Book of The Month: Severance 3 25 Dec 12, 2018 06:27AM  
Lake Wales Public...: 2018 Kirkus Prize 1 7 Nov 13, 2018 02:36PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Scribe
  • Mem
  • Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)
  • Friday Black
  • The Test
  • City of Ash and Red
  • We Cast a Shadow
  • An Excess Male
  • Rosewater
  • A Lucky Man
  • The Underground Railroad
  • Eternal Life
  • Long for This World
  • Tell the Machine Goodnight
  • Terra Nullius
  • La comemadre
  • Trick Mirror
  • The Killing Star
See similar books…
Ling Ma is author of the novel Severance, which received the Kirkus Prize. Her work has appeared in Granta, Playboy, Vice, ACM, the Chicago Reader, Ninth Letter, and others.

She was born in Sanming, China and grew up in Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas. She holds an MFA from Cornell University and an AB from the University of Chicago.
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Memories beget memories. Shen fever being a disease of remembering, the fevered are trapped indefinitely in their memories. But what is the difference between the fevered and us? Because I remember too, I remember perfectly. My memories replay, unprompted, on repeat. And our days, like theirs, continue in an infinite loop.” 11 likes
“I have always lived in the myth of New York more than in its reality.” 11 likes
More quotes…