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Leave the World Behind

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A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis. 

241 pages, Hardcover

First published October 6, 2020

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About the author

Rumaan Alam

10 books1,448 followers
I'm the author of the novels Rich and Pretty, That Kind of Mother, and Leave the World Behind.

My short fiction has appeared in StoryQuarterly, Crazyhorse, Meridian, and elsewhere. I've also written for the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and the New Republic. I studied writing at Oberlin College. Now I live in New York with my husband and two kids.

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5 stars
14,583 (12%)
4 stars
33,300 (28%)
3 stars
38,611 (32%)
2 stars
21,296 (18%)
1 star
9,521 (8%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 17,736 reviews
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,393 reviews2,385 followers
September 22, 2020
A potentially interesting scenario here, though one rather overplayed and everywhere due to Covid, but the writing had me grating my teeth right from the start: 'they huddled and inspected like Caravaggio's Thomas and friends', 'his penis jerked itself towards the sun, a yoga salutation, bouncing, then stiff at the house's allure' - the prose is constantly over-written with a 'why use one word when you could use fifty?' attitude.

The narrative stance is like a third-person stream of consciousness, jumping in and out of people's heads and full of observations that are both unnecessary and articulated in try-hard style ('the phones worked on them like those bulbous flutes did on cobras', 'Rose was particularly susceptible to the tart charms of vinegar potato chips').

The tone of the writing feels like a jaunty comedy but possibly scary things happen (we don't quite know what has happened - or even whether something has) so the style and content feel like a surreal mismatch - where other reviewers have seen tension, I saw a screenplay with a sort of 'other people are hell' vibe. Everything about this book failed to work for me - and that yoga-practicing penis is my main takeaway!
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews111k followers
October 30, 2020
This book is the most low-key and vague thriller I’ve read and would therefore be best enjoyed by readers who like very scaled back horror that focuses less on action and more on subtle feelings of dread and uneasiness. The whole point of the book is that you don’t know what’s going on, and it’s the absence of knowledge that is meant to play into the tension and fear. The story personally didn’t strike me the same way, perhaps due to the meandering nature of the conversations between the characters, but I’m interested in seeing how the Netflix adaptation will tackle this.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 116 books156k followers
June 28, 2020
A white family is vacationing in the Hamptons when the black owners of the home they are renting show up. Together the families must figure out what’s going on, because something terrible is clearly happening. This is an exceptional examination of race and class and family and what the world looks like when it’s ending—not at all different from the world we are in now. Finely o served details throughout.
Profile Image for Kat.
260 reviews79.2k followers
April 25, 2021
this was an odd one! idk reading it was a constant flip between "pls let this shit end" and "ok wowowowow mind blown"
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,133 reviews39.3k followers
August 2, 2022
Get ready to watch this book’s adaptation on Netflix. Such an amazing team on the board: Homecoming and Mr. Robot’s director Sam Ismael and fabulous cast including Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts!!! I cannot wait !!!

Oh noooo!!!! This is smart, thrilling, riveting suspense and family drama but it’s not a great choice to read it during your quarantine and chill times because it’s claustrophobic, dark, suffocating, apocalyptic story.

Something going on outside and you gotta stay in your house to save yourself but maybe sometimes taking risk and leave the world behind, getting out of your shelter to see the things with your own eyes would be the best alternative!

The story terribly reminded me Jordan Peele’s “Us’: Family with two kids renting a vacation home and but another family appears at the door. Thankfully they are not their evil twins to come for replacing them like Us’ plot-line. This story is mostly psychology suspense, it is not a horror story!
It starts Amanda and Clay- a lovely couple wants to escape from their city life and rents a vacation home at Hamptons for reasonable price as weekend getaway with their two kids. Everything starts quite relaxing, entertaining, peaceful like the silence before the storm or happiness before the approaching disaster as like all those thriller movies’ beginning.

Suddenly they hear the banging on the door and meet with G.H. and Ruth, house’s real owners escaped from NY because of blackout and came to their second home to use their shelter. The internet, television, cell service are shut down as a proof of their story. So they let them in. Of course the thought balloons start to appear above your head: are these people really the real owner of the house? What the hell is happening outside? Is this the apocalypse? How long to families need to stay together and do they trust each other? Should they do that?

High tension, family drama, class-race differences mixed with uncertainty of their situation and growing claustrophobia and feeling trapped in one location.

I could really give this book 5 stars because of great plot-line. But the perplexing language style, complex vocabulary choices and the way of story-telling were a little exhausting and complex for me. It broke my concentration at few times. Ending was okay but it could be more surprising and shocking. Those facts lowered my points to 3.5 but I still rounded them up to 4 because the promising premise and high tension story-building were delightful. It was still exciting, heart throbbing page-turner.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins Publishers/Ecco for sharing this ARC with me in exchange my honest review.

Profile Image for Frank Phillips.
494 reviews244 followers
October 18, 2020
This was a book I was very much looking forward to, considering all the positive hype it has received, and it's relevant subject matter, I could not wait to pick this one up. Unfortunately, this will go down as one of the biggest disappointments of 2020 for me in the book world... It just did not hit the mark . There was so much potential, and despite the explicit vulgarity and often annoying style, I thought it was still redeemable and could not wait to see how this came together at the end... And then it just didn't! It had one of the most unsatisfactory endings you could imagine in a book. It's like it almost ended in mid-thought, was that the intent?! I mean, I can assume what happens after this ends, but sometimes it just doesn't work leaving so many questions unanswered, and this was definitely a great example of that, for me anyway. I'm sure this book will be very polarizing and I might be more towards the minority in my opinion but I'm just not a fan of Alam's writing style, so this will probably be the only book of his I ever read. You win some, you lose some. Anyway, moving on to hopefully the next great read!
Profile Image for zuza_zaksiazkowane.
328 reviews29.9k followers
February 2, 2022
Podsumowanie tej książki w jednym zdaniu - ludzie to idioci i nie potrafią nic zrobić. Ale słaba ta powieść była. Czy ja mogę w końcu w tym roku przeczytać coś ekstra??
Profile Image for Hannah.
588 reviews1,047 followers
November 6, 2020
Sometimes I am so in the minority with a book that I am starting to question whether I read the same book as everybody else. This is one of those cases (partly at least, because an abundance of DNF-reviews agrees with me). I did not get on with this. Maybe I should have called it quits when at 15% in, Alam had managed to reference the genitals of three of the four family members. Snark aside, I was very much the wrong reader for this – where other people read scenes as tense, I found them satirical – and I do not particularly like satire. I found the tone impossible to pin down and as such the reading experience was more frustrating than anything else. Additionally, there were mainly three things that did not work for me: uneven perspective, disdainful characterisation, and a lack of trust in the reader’s intelligence.

Alam chose a omniscient narrator for his story, flitting between his characters’ heads, often within the same paragraph. While this might have worked had the tone been different, here I found this led to a lack of tension and an immense amount of frustration on my end because he chose to keep things artificially hidden from the reader. I would have prefered the narration to be either closer to the two couples or further away, as it was, the sprinkled-in sentences about the outside world took the little bit of tension I felt completely away.

I do not mind unlikable characters (at all, especially when they are women) but I need to feel like the author cares for their characters. Here I felt like I could basically see Alam sneering at his characters and I found that approach unkind – and again leading to my lack of interest in what was going on. He is also weirdly focussed on genitalia in a way that I found frankly baffling – I do not know what purpose the masturbation and sex scenes played for the story and I would have rather not spent this much time reading about a teenager’s penis.

It felt like Alam did not trust his readers to understand subtext or character development. Everything is spelt out, excrutiatingly. So much that I started to wonder if something really obvious was flying over my head. By the time I finished this book, all goodwill I had towards this book based on the incredible premise was lost.

Content warnings:

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Andi.
1,145 reviews
October 12, 2020
What the fuck did I pay money to read.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,129 reviews2,290 followers
September 24, 2020
4.5 stars

A middle-aged white couple and their two teenage children have their vacation at a luxurious, secluded Airbnb interrupted by a late night knock at the door. The black owners of the home are at the door with a story of a major unknown event that knocked out the power along the east coast.

Over the course of the next few days, tensions surface between the two families and fear is the overriding emotion. There is no cellphone, radio, or tv reception, leaving them totally cut off from the world with no idea what is happening beyond their four walls.

It is clear a cataclysmic event took place, and the third person omniscient point of view allows the reader brief glimpses into what is happening in the outside world. The lack of details and the unknown adds to the overriding sense of menace. (The same type of technique that made Bird Box so terrifying.)

The author give the reader a look into the thought processes of all involved, which reveals hidden biases. The underlying themes of age, class, race, and the blindness of modern life bubbles beneath the surface. I give credit to the author for respecting the intelligence of his readers by handling them all with a light touch, which makes more of an impact. The beginning chapters meanders along and what looks at first glance to be mundane filler, such as the vacationer’s grocery list, is very revealing, as is later made clear.

Atmospheric, character-driven, and thought-provoking, this is a literary mix of genres that totally worked. The writing is sharp and smart. My two complaints are worth overlooking: the occasional use of obscure words, and TMI with some personal details.

I read this book in two sittings, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. In fact, I finished it last week and I’m still thinking about it. The ending is not tied up in a neat bow, which will bother some readers, but I thought it was perfect and fitting. This won’t be for everyone, but it was certainly for me.

A Netflix movie, starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, is in the works. I can totally see this story playing out on the screen.

*I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
*Publication date 10/6/2020 by Ecco Press, HarperCollins
Profile Image for Ben.
133 reviews
October 13, 2020
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher of the book. Although the book is only 236 pages, it is still bloated. This should have been a 50-60 short story at most. The author constantly overwrites scenes that needn't be. It took 6 pages just for the couple to be invited into the house. The author goes on for one entire page listing food items that a character purchased. Is this really necessary? He describes scenes that have no bearing on the story whatsoever. These scenes could be totally deleted and it would not affect the narrative one bit. He is the type of author that uses big words when little ones would do.

The decisions that the characters make seem ridiculous given the circumstance that they find themselves in. (Spoiler Alert) There is a blackout and the teenagers are walking through the woods to see if their neighbors know anything. The story takes place on Eastern Long Island, a pretty desolate area, so they need to walk a bit before they come to a house. One of the kids doesn't bring his phone! He's walking through the woods at night during a blackout looking for help and he doesn't bring his phone? Really? They find a house then all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, they decide to turn back. What? Isn't this the MAIN reason you went out in the first place?

The entire book is like this. It was bloated, overwritten, meandering and disappointing.
Profile Image for Michelle .
863 reviews1,225 followers
July 27, 2020
Prepare to be freaked the fuck out!!!

Amanda and Clay along with their two teenage children head out to a luxurious vacation home in the Hamptons. They spend the day lounging poolside, eating, drinking, and enjoying each others company which is easy to do when the wi-fi is so spotty where they are. After enjoying a nice dinner and after the kids have turned into bed Amanda and Clay just want to relax after a glorious summer day of sunshine but then there is a knock on the door. This late in the evening? Who even knows they are there?

"There it was, undeniable: noise. A cough, a voice, a step, a hesitation, that uncatergorizable animal knowledge that there's another of the species nearby and the pause, pregnant, to see if they mean harm. There was a knock at the door. A knock at the door of this house, where no one knew they were, not even the global positioning system, this house near the ocean but also lost in farmland, this house of red brick painted white, the very material the smartest little piggy chose because it would keep them safest. There was a knock at the door."

At the door are the homeowners, G.H. and Ruth, an older black couple. They have come from their home in the city due to a black out. They felt it would be safer here. Amanda and Clay are hesitant. These are strangers. They may not even be the homeowners but their need to be kind and compassionate to these older folks outweighs everything and so they let them in.

That's all I'm saying because everything after this is straight out of a pandemic nightmare.

"You told yourself you'd be attuned to a holocaust unfolding a world away, but you weren't. It was immaterial, thanks to distance. People weren't that connected to one another. Terrible things happened constantly and never prevented you from going out for ice cream or celebrating birthdays or going to movies or paying your taxes or fucking you wife or worrying about the mortgage."

Holy hell this was good, good, good. And freaky. And intelligent - I used my dictionary quite a bit with this one but that's okay because I love learning new words. I will say the ending is abrupt and it looks like some readers aren't enjoying it but honestly I don't think that this author could have ended it in any other way. It's sometimes the not knowing that makes something truly scary. There are so many themes to discuss that this would make an excellent choice for book clubs. 5 *terrifying* stars!

Thank you to NetGalley and Ecco for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Andreas.
226 reviews103 followers
January 18, 2021
An interesting and provocative plot wasted over nonsensical, absurd writing. I could probably write a proper review, but I could also just copy-paste Merriam Webster’s definition of “pretentious” and call it a day (fret not though, for I shall provide you with evidence further down):

1: characterized by pretension: such as
a: making usually unjustified or excessive claims (as of value or standing)

b: expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature

So, the aforementioned evidence. First, you have your nonsensical pretentiousness:

“The car was Clay’s domain, and he was lax enough that it accrued the talus of oats from granola bars bought in bulk […]”

“Three flamingos lifted out off the pool’s surface with a masculine flaunting of wings.”

“The air was that sweet cocktail of ocean breeze and happenstance, good for tomatoes and corn, but you thought you could also catch a note of luxury cars, fine art, those soft textiles rich people leave piled on their sofas.”

“It was a noise, but it was transformation. It was a noise, but it was a confirmation. Something had happened, something was happening, it was ongoing, the noise was confirmation even as the noise was mystery.”

Then you have your weird sexual metaphors:

“The shadow of a young girl in flower; the bloodhound might find the metal beneath the whiff of entry-level cosmetics, the pubescent predilection for fake apples and cherries.”

“He could pick up her disapproval like sonar. It was like the swell that presaged an erection. They’d been married sixteen years.”

“Archie, long limbs and acute angles, barely convex chest sprouting brown twists at the pink nipples; Rose, curvy and jiggling, downy with baby hair, her polka-dot one-piece straining just so at the legs, pudendum in relief.”
(By the way, this is a mother’s description of her teenage children)

“She flipped onto her stomach, the sheets warm from her body, so the transitive warmth against her vulva was that of her own body, and flopping around in the bed was an act of masturbation.”

“In the living room, Archie stuffed his feet into his Vans and used his tongue to contemplate the tender empty pockets in his gums. They were soft and pleasant, like the recesses of the human body his own was designed to fit into […]”

All of this to say: don't waste your time.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,923 reviews35.4k followers
October 13, 2020
Audiobook.... read by Marin Ireland

“Love goes on after a bomb”....
“All anyone really wanted was home and food”.....
....Sausage pasta, wine, Chardonnay, whiskey, carrots and hummus, eggs, cereal, chips, cokes, desserts, cakes, ice cream, donuts, cookies, salty goldfish crackers, hamburgers, hotdogs, orange slices, cheese & crackers, strawberries, zucchini, blueberries, yogurt, bread,, tuna, beans, cans of soup,
Sliced turkey, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, cakes, more vodka, more whiskey, more beer,more sweets....
Add cigarettes, board games, movies, electricity would be nice, cell phones with power connection, first aid, household & cleaning supplies... toilet paper, Advil, garbage bags, bleach, duct tape, laundry detergent.. etc.

I hope readers aren’t hungry when they read this HOT BUZZ thriller.... which borders on ‘horror’.... and completely ridiculous.

It’s definitely an addictive read....
even my husband joined in on the fun.... but he thought it was idiotic mind-f^~king wacky... yet he was interested enough to keep listening.

Paul and I both found many nonsensical sentences—and others that needed ‘fact-checking’ ...
For example - NPR doesn’t air X-rated podcasts that a 13 girl needs to be protected from....
but this book doesn’t get its hype from logic.

The best way to enjoy this book is hop on the ‘belief-suspension’ train... and enjoy the ride. ( or avoid it altogether is another solution)...
but once a reader begins, even if you’re rolling your eyes like crazy.... ( not only about the disasters themselves in the plot...but for lots of nonsensical writing). ...
which maybe is supposed to be part of the fun, too?/!/?

....this is one of those addicting thriller-types with great premise potential which tried to be too many things.
Again, I’m not sure if it matters....
Readers are going to read this book whether they like it or don’t.
Thriller readers will be too curious about this one. I was too.
There’s definitely an audience for it and I’m not sorry I read it, but after the buzz dies down and I have a few conversations with my friends....
I’ll easily move on....

We come to know all six main characters - by name - quickly ( makes the readers feel smart and comforted)...
We even know the contractor’s name down the street, (readers will feel even smarter),
but we really never get to know any of the characters ‘well’.
Does it matter? Maybe not.
The world was ending so why not eat drink, dance, clean, and have sex...
Everything else is Cowboys and Indians.
It’s one GOOFY BOOK!!!
Thousands of deer, flamingos,
an unexplained sound....
four adults,
two children,
trust issues,
survival issues,
new friends ( ha),
pink vomit,
a nightmare vacation....
The author throws in a little of everything including the kitchen sink....
semen on the sheets,
mystery suspense,
*gross* graphic descriptions of a sick kid,
a missing kid,
a contractor,
racial issues,
lots of inner chatter,
unexplainable disaster happenings.

It’s a NUTTY BOOK!!!

I took something away which I’ll be thinking about longer.

When Paul and I thought about having children, we thought about whether or not we felt we were in a position to do so financially and if we were ready....
But we really didn’t think much about what the world was going to be like for our daughters once they were grown.
I am now.... and it’s an unsettling thought.
Profile Image for Elle.
584 reviews1,295 followers
November 30, 2022

I don’t know how to talk about this book. It’s just so out of left field. I don’t even know if I liked it.

But I’ll try to vaguely review it here, as just about everything that I want to say could be considered a spoiler. The biggest feeling I had while reading was one of tension. There’s something constantly bubbling underneath the surface and you’re never quite sure what it is. And that tension keeps building towards a climax, but it doesn’t ever seem to reach it. I’m left with more questions at the end than I have answers.

This is a character-driven story that is probably going to read differently for different people. For this reason I think it’d work better as a screenplay; there’s a few instances where it’s hard to figure out the author’s intent. I *will* say this is a book that hits you very distinctly after 9 months of quarantine than it would have otherwise. For the most part I liked the writing, but I know some are going to find it a little too descriptive.

My advice is to go into it blind. Stop reading about the plot and go in without expectations. At the very least, you’ll have a strong reaction by the end either way.

And for those unaware, there’s an adaption currently in the works that’s set to star Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, which I’m positive is going to be amazing.

*Thank you to Ecco Books & HarperCollins for an advance copy!

**For more book talk & reviews, follow me on Instagram at @elle_mentbooks!
Profile Image for Holly  B (busy month catching up).
799 reviews1,808 followers
April 15, 2021
 Literary suspense with a whisper of horror.

A family is vacationing in a exclusive, remote neighborhood tucked away in the woods, when someone knocks on the door in the middle of the night! They freak out! What should they do? What would I do?

Inquiring minds want to know, and my curiousity was piqued to the point that I just had to finish and fast. Only 241 pages, it was a quick read. There are some vivid descriptions, nakedness, and other bodily happenings that were freakish. Some downright bizarre scenes. Claustrophobic and wildly unimaginable.

Strange things occur ....
uninvited guests, unsettling sounds, screaming, the television beeping and hissing, abated wind, animals acting strangely, and a chill in the air

"They wanted something to happen, but something was happening. They did not know it, and it did not involve them, not really."

It does not have a tidy ending,but for me it was brilliant! After all, every day is a gift and no one really knows what the future will bring.

This was a library loan

An upcoming Netflix movie coming starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. No idea when, but can't wait!

Profile Image for Warda.
1,125 reviews17.7k followers
September 9, 2022
This book just affirms that ratings are lies and inaccurate and should not be trusted and that if a book sounds interesting to you, just read it.

Stories find their own audience. I happen to be part of the audience for this story.

I think this was marketed as a thriller? But it’s so much more than that. I don’t understand why books have to be marketed in such a rigid-like way, especially when they’re a blend of genres. It’s never about one thing. That’s not a story.

The writing style isn’t going to work for everyone. It’s distinct, it’s unusual, it follows its own set of rules, and it worked so fuckin’ well for me.
It was elegant and clever. It calmed me, even though the story gets progressively more frantic. My anxiety was rising. The fact that something was looming over the story like a dark cloud made me feel uneasy. The characters didn’t know what was happening and the reader is being immersed in their uncertainty. It was uncomfortable.

Their world was gradually changing, entering a post-apocalyptic state.
When the supposed luxuries of life are taken away from you, what’re you left with and what matters? It’s a grim reality that has been crafted. It’s desperate, you're surviving on base human emotions and behaviours that have been amplified due to the unknown. Rational and morality are out the window.

It was all done so, so well. I was completely captivated.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,859 followers
November 1, 2020
Read this book if you like:
- Very unique spins on tired tropes (end of the world)
- Read with Jenna (Today Show) book club selections
- Words you have to look up
- National Book Award finalists
- Descriptions of bodily fluids, sex and random nudity
- Short novels already being adapted into Netflix films starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington
- Pretentious prose
- Publishers Weekly starred reviews
- Very detailed lists that seem irrelevant but aren't

Skip this book if you like:
- Endings
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,586 reviews1,988 followers
June 11, 2020
I thought I knew what a Rumaan Alam novel meant, but wow was I wrong. It is still so much of what I expected: the granular, sharp detail and the observations on a particular strain of comfortable, liberal white people. AND YET. I will not be the only one to have this experience, and in a way it's a sly bit of marketing to just talk about this like it's going to be a "strained relationships under pressure" novel of manners with some extra suspense kind of thing. For a reader like me, it is an absolute delight to be slowly, oh so slowly, moved from a place of comfort to a place of physical horror. But a lot of readers are going to be really really mad at this book for tricking them so I would just like to start off by saying that if you do not like being deeply unsettled, maybe move along. Or at least know going in that this is not going to be a book that takes care of you.

I feel like making grand pronouncements about this book. It is the first real Pandemic Lit. There has been much speculation about what novels about this era will look like, and who knew the first one would be written before any of it started. It is a Trump Era Novel. It is both of these things, because what it is really doing is taking that feeling of dread you (hopefully) experienced on November 8, 2016, everything that suddenly felt so precarious, all the horrors that now seemed possible, all the structures that in a moment looked ready to topple, and channels all of it into this compact story in a vacation house in Long Island.

It is a horror novel because it is about fear. The fear of strangers, the fear of the unexplainable, the fear of harm coming to your children. This is the book in a nutshell. Well, it is the book eventually.

At first, we are setting the stage and that is when you have that Ah yes, a Rumaan Alam novel feeling. From the moment you meet Amanda and Clay you already know everything about them. They live in Brooklyn, she works in advertising and he is more of a professorial/writer/intellectual type, they have more money than most but not enough to feel like they are truly comfortable. When rich people ask them where they are from, Amanda lies and says a nicer neighborhood than they actually live in. They are a relatively happy family. They have rented a house on Long Island to take a break from the city and have a family vacation. In one scene, Alam follows Amanda to the grocery store and catalogs each purchase and I was riveted. Even though it was a menial thing, it was also immediately revealing, every purchase a signal she is sending to herself and her family about who they are and what they are going to do with this vacation.

Then things start to get weird. After a few days of lounging, letting you get comfortable with these people and this setting, there is a knock at the door. And you think you know where you're at. It is an older Black couple, and oh now we will get into the good stuff, yes? Yes. But also. This is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg.

Alam is so smart here, keeping the focus on this family, the "intruders," and the house itself. But every so often just slipping in a tiny bit of what is happening outside of this small setting. Just enough so that we realize our characters are in deeper than they know, to raise the stakes and have us even more troubled than they are. It builds this sense of urgency. Horrible things are happening, they must be happening, even if we are not sure exactly what they are, but here are Amanda and Clay staying up late, speculating, heating up leftovers and drinking vodka. Remember how we all said that the thing so many apocalypse novels got wrong about it is how boring it is? This book gets it. It gets the intricacies of the day, how they continue on, how we downplay and rationalize and insist that everything is fine. How when we do feel threatened we don't know how to respond, how when the crisis is no longer something you can ignore you can lose all sense of propriety.

The closest comparison I have for this book is 2019's THE NEED, which also bridges the Horror and Literary divide, and also involves parental fear and a deep feeling that something is Wrong. The style is quite different and so is the story, but the way both books mess with your head and your sense of security is quite similar. Alam's granular detail only intensifies the pacing as the book moves along. Once I was 70% of the way through my e-book I knew there was no going back, I was sitting there until I was done.

If you enjoy this kind of dark and deeply unsettling surprise, this will be a real win for you, like it was for me. But this isn't a book I'll recommend lightly. It definitely belongs in the subgenre I call "WTAF?!" and not everyone is comfortable there. I also recognize that some readers are going to have to give this one a pass until the world feels a little less precarious. (If that ever happens.)
Profile Image for Michelle.
593 reviews447 followers
October 6, 2020
4.5 rounded up to 5

There's a lot of mystery around what this book is exactly about. Everyone is being deliberately vague and after having read it myself, I can now say that is the right approach. I finished this over the weekend and ever since then, I’ve been trying to think of how many other books made me feel this way. Not many, that’s for sure. This is a book you have to deliberately read (and go blind into) and allow yourself to absorb carefully. I think one of the most genius things about it, is that everyone will have their own reaction and response to it. The reason being is that fear is unique. We aren’t all afraid of the same things for the same reasons. Alam takes that knowledge and puts that on display perfectly. He moves the walls of the room closer and closer and closer until you can only hear the sounds of your own heart beating faster and faster and faster. This book is brilliant and while I know it won’t be a favorite for everyone, it’s a book that asks you a very personal question. What do you become when you’re ability to obtain knowledge disappears???

If I read this book in any other year, I would have given it a lower rating. When Rumaan Alam wrote this, he had no idea all the things that would happen in 2020. Particularly, COVID. This book is much more impactful now that we've been living with this virus for 8 months. It's no longer something that sounds awful or allows you the hubris to think, "Man, I'm sure glad I never have to worry about that happening." This is now. This is real life. The disbelief, the feeling of being caught off guard, the need for knowledge, the longing for normalcy - those are all things we are experiencing. Right now! So before 2020, I wouldn't have understood, I wouldn't have "gotten it". But I get it now. I get what this does to people. I get what this does to society. I get what this has done to me.

Thank you so much to Ecco Books and Rumaan Alam for my free review copy and to Netgalley for digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review Date: 10/06/2020
Publication Date: 10/06/2020
Profile Image for Michael David (on hiatus).
620 reviews1,482 followers
October 21, 2020
Well, this is definitely an original story. I’ll give it that.

Amanda and Clay, and their two children, head to a remote area of Long Island to vacation at a beautiful Airbnb. After a day of of fun and sun, a knock at the front door takes them out of their reverie. On the other side of the door is George and his wife, Ruth. They are the owners of the home. After a sudden blackout in New York, they decided to travel to the remotely located home to figure out what is going on.

There is, in fact, a lot going on in the world that these 6 people are unaware of...as all WiFi stops, televisions stop working, and phones have no way to connect to the outside world.

First, I want to say that I was drawn into this story from the first page, and that goes to the credit of author Rumaan Alam. The atmosphere (and claustrophobic tension) builds through his words. However, some of the prose can be slightly off putting, and maybe purposely so.

This is a story about class, race (Amanda, Clay and their children are white, and George and Ruth are Black), and the crazy world we live in these days. It’s timely and interesting, with growing suspense throughout the first half.

It also has talk about bodily fluids, and touching of ones own body parts. I wasn’t a big fan of that as I didn’t see the point...nor did I enjoy the ending. I understand why the conclusion happened the way it did, but I personally prefer a denouement with much less ambiguity.

I’m not really sure of the purpose of this book when all is said and done.
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,421 reviews77.6k followers
Shelved as 'dnf-lost-interest'
September 24, 2020
Going to have to mark this as a DNF for now, but I'm hoping that it will work well for me at a later date, as I've heard the conversations around race and privilege are thought provoking and timely. At the moment, I just can't slog through the over-written prose, but I'm hoping that the right reader will snatch this up at publication, as I believe in supporting this author and what Alam is trying to tell with this story. Basically, it's me and not the book. :(

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,201 reviews34.9k followers
October 5, 2020
Do you still have your bearings?

Two families forced to spend a weekend together....

The book begins as Amanda, Clay and their two children are staying at a luxurious Airbnb home on long island, expecting a quiet weekend away from the hustle and bustle of NYC. One night there is a knock on the door and there are the owners of the home, Ruth, and G.H., who have come to their rental home to escape the blackout in NYC. Soon the internet, electricity, and cable go out. Will no cell service, should Clay and Amanda believe what they are being told? Can the homeowners be trusted? Are they who they claim to be? Can Ruth and G.H. trust Amanda and Clay? Why is there a blackout? Is this remote home truly safe?

This book is both atmospheric and claustrophobic. It also feels as if you are going to be reading a horror novel - you are not. What you are reading is a book that is about parenthood, class, race, isolation, and judgment. This book is suspenseful, has a feeling of dread, and had me questioning what the heck was going on, especially in the beginning.

Thought-provoking and riveting.

Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,209 reviews26k followers
October 16, 2020
I'm so torn over how I feel about this book. This definitely felt more literary fiction than thriller to me, which I wasn't expecting after reading the description of this book, I guess I was expecting something with a little more action in the story. But this book is definitely more of a slow burn, but there are some true moments of tension between these characters in this book that I really enjoyed. I listened to the audiobook for this one while reading along simultaneously, and I'm kind of glad I did because I don't know if I would've gotten through this book without the audiobook. The writing is a choice.. I thought it was a little over-descriptive in parts, and some scenes were written in a very sexual way, which made it kind of awkward to listen to on audio at times.

I wasn't a huge fan of the writing style but the plot itself is pretty interesting, a white couple is on a vacation in the Hamptons with their kids when an elderly Black couples arrives at the home saying this is their home and there has been an emergency situation in New York, a major power outage and they need to get back inside their home. It had similar vibes to Jordan Peele's Us which I loved because it's one of my favorite movies, but unlike that movie I feel like this book never really went anywhere, or at least not in the direction I thought it would. Unfortunately, I spent most of the book feeling confused and by the end I was starting to lose interest.

As some other reviewers have stated I think the plot left something to be desired, and it had a really cool premise but I just wanted more. I think this book handled the subjects of family and race and class very well, but the writing style itself wasn't my favorite. I heard this is getting adapted into a film though, which is exciting because I do feel like this story will work better in a film.
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
377 reviews549 followers
May 7, 2021
"Leave the World Behind" by Rumaan Alam was alarmingly unsettling in so many ways!

Amanda and Clay and their two teenagers, Archie and Rose are off to a much needed vacation at an Airbnb on Long Island. The house is beautiful. Very secluded. Amazing. A fully loaded dream home!

It's very late in the evening, the kids are in bed, Amanda and Clay are relaxing after a quiet dinner, when they hear unsettling sounds outside. Then, a knock at the door! It's an older African-American couple, Ruth and G.H. Washington who say they are the owners of the home...

G.H. and Ruth tell Amanda and Clay of leaving their high-rise apartment in New York City because of a major black-out. No cell service. No TV or radio. No electricity. It was chaotic! They figured they would be safer in their secluded vacation home.

Amanda and Clay are suspicious. Are these strangers who they say they are? Should they let this couple in? Or do they just shut and bolt the door?

There are thought provoking issues in this story. About race, age, class - but all are touched on lightly and only with innuendo.

There are hints about what's happening but few details are given. You want to know more.

It begins to make you uncomfortable.

Instead the focus is on the characters. I love that it's a character study. The differences between youth and parents and older adults. Their thought processes are so varied. Miles apart. Years apart!

A character driven story with chapters of what each character is thinking, feeling and doing. It begins with a lazy family vacation and ends....

...it ends by forcing you to use your imagination.

I loved that, too! I highly recommend this book.

4.5 stars rounded up for the author's creativity!
Profile Image for Debbie.
433 reviews2,744 followers
October 10, 2020
4.5, rounded up

Not a plain old thriller!

This book tricked me! Here I was reading a book about an apocalypse! This is NOT my genre! I went into it blind, like I love to do, and I thought I was getting a plain old thriller. But I don’t want to scare off people—this is more like apocalypse light. There’s no gore, no dead bodies, no zombies. And there is distance (covering my mouth so I don’t say more). I think of it as a family drama with weird things happening.

First, a quick and vague plot synopsis: A rich, white family rents a ritzy, remote house for a summer vacation. It’s mom and dad and their two teens. In the middle of the night, the elderly black owners of the house show up.

The idea of a thriller was stuck in my head, so I thought sinister people, not sinister outside forces, were the players here. Being genre-dumb has its perks, though—from the second there was a knock on the door, I saw endless possibilities of disaster.

Joy Jar

--That knock-knock was no joke. The scene became one of the tensest I’ve read this year, because I absolutely had NO idea what was going on. Fantastic suspense, fantastic writing! I was right there inside the family’s heads and skins, total immersion. The writer is a smart cookie and knows how to spin it so that the family’s fear becomes our fear.

-The language and style are sophisticated; always a giant plus! Every sentence is carefully placed and is perfect and wise. The book is philosophical without being pedantic or dense. Great new vocab words for those of us who like to learn them (which I then promptly forget, lol—but it’s fun at the time).

-There are juicy little hints that something is wrong outside paradise. I was right there next to the characters, trying to figure out what was happening.

-Loved how the writer portrays fear and desperation. Hope, shock, worry, all mixed in the stew. Very realistic. Characters are committed to the hope that everything will be fine. They downplay, rationalize, insist. Here are these six people, all scared, all in their own personal hell, and yet forced to interact. You really get a sense of what it feels like to be disconnected and isolated yet have people around. The couples are strangers, so motivations and preferences are unknown. No one knows what to expect from the others. And since the situation is scary, they can’t just relax and socialize. The way all this is done is very clever and eerie.

-The apocalypse doings are creative.

Complaint Board

-Do I really need to hear about every single thing in a grocery cart? The list of foods is hugundous! Major yawn! The food shop is at the beginning, and I feared I’d be exposed to some serious detail-itis throughout the book. (Didn’t happen, phew!) Later, as I realized I was loving the book, I decided to spin it differently (we always make excuses when love comes into the picture!). I decided the list was okay because we got to know something about the family by seeing what they were eating. We saw their snobbery, their secret delights, their junk food—revealing their complicated tastes, giving us hints about their personalities. Sort of “you are what you eat”?

-Greta the Grammarian says a verb tense drove her nuts. (Always beware when I start talking in second person; I’m trying to escape the embarrassment of this gripe!) It happened a couple of times. Here’s one of the culprits: “Our phones reminded us precisely how bad things had got.” I know it’s just me, but I hate that “got” is used instead of “gotten.” I want, no, I NEED, the “ten” at the end. Gotten, gotten, gotten! My linguistically-bent, teacher daughter told me it’s acceptable now to use the “got” structure. (Another one that drives me nuts: He got “bit” by a dog instead of he got “bitten” by a dog.) Argh!! Yes, I know, this is ridiculously minor so why did I even go there? Blame Greta.

-I will tease you with this one word: Teeth. I was a dental assistant when I was 14 (!). I think it messed me up when it comes to teeth because it made me question the parents’ reaction. I will close my mouth now. Read it and find out what the hell I’m talking about.

-I didn’t hate the ending but I didn’t love it either. I wanted more closure. The only big complaint, I’d say.

Even though one couple is white and one is black, I don’t think race came into play very much. It’s definitely not the main gist of the story. Other reviewers felt differently; I might be missing something.

This is a book that will stay with me. Lots of drama. It’s unique, sharp and dark, uncomfortable and scary. If you have fantasies of worse-case scenarios, this might not be the book for you. But if you like a very well-written family drama with fascinating dynamics and world-weird thrills mixed in, grab this one because it is wicked good! I could not put it down. It’s not very long, so fast readers will zoom through it in no time.

Thanks to Edelweiss and NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,481 reviews29.4k followers
November 3, 2020
There always seem to be books that get a tremendous amount of hype and critical buzz (and sometimes win major awards), yet when I read them I'm left scratching my head at what I might have missed. How could something appeal to so many and bypass me entirely?

Rumaan Alam's new novel, Leave the World Behind , is the latest to add to that list. It's a National Book Award nominee and it has been praised by numerous publications and critics. I have seen mixed reviews among friends of mine on Bookstagram, so I guess I'm not entirely surprised where I wound up on this book, but I'm still a bit perplexed, puzzled, and even a little frustrated at what the book was about.


Clay and Amanda are planning a vacation just before the end of the summer with their two teenage children, Archie and Rose. They've found a rental house on Airbnb, in a remote part of Long Island, and they look forward to getting away from their lives in New York City. The house seems perfect—it has a pool and a hot tub, and isn't too far from the beach. And when they arrive, it's even better than advertised—the house is well-appointed and the owners seem to have thought of everything.

They start to settle in and enjoy the vacation. Even though the house has wifi, they can't seem to get much of a signal on their phones, but even that doesn't stress them out that much. And then, one night, after the kids have gone to sleep, there is a knock at the door. It completely startles Amanda and Clay. Who could be knocking on the door of this house in the middle of nowhere late at night?

It turns out it's G.H. and Ruth, an elderly couple who happen to own the house they're renting. They're somewhat frantic, especially Ruth, and they bring news of a blackout that has affected New York City. They don't know what caused it, but the city was in such chaos, their first thought was escaping to their second home.

At first, Amanda and Clay are a bit put out. Are these two really who they say they are? What do they expect them to do, as they paid for an entire week? But with the wifi and phones down, no one really knows what is happening in the world. Was it just a blackout in New York City, or is it nationwide? Was this caused by terrorism, natural disaster, something extraterrestrial? Are they safe staying where they are?

The uncertainty starts to get to all of them, and they discover some comfort in togetherness. But as random incidents occur, they grow more worried. What is happening? Are they in danger?

Alam teases out the tension little by little and I had no idea what was going to happen. In the end, however, I still don't have any idea. I'm really not a big fan of ambiguous endings, and that's what I was left with. There was a point when things started to get really bizarre and I just don't know what it all meant.

There's no doubt that Alam is tremendously talented, and I know there are some who loved this book, so I'd encourage you to use your own judgment in deciding whether or not to read Leave the World Behind . It's not quite a thriller or a mystery, but there certainly are mysterious elements.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Sheena.
579 reviews255 followers
October 6, 2020
“Step into our beautiful house and leave the world behind”.

A family vacation in Long Island is interrupted when the homeowners return with news of something weird going on. Is the world ending? Is there a war? A natural disaster? WHO KNOWS.
The synopsis interested me and I thought there would be some Jordan Peele vibes but wow, I was so wrong. In the second chapter we get two pages of what Amanda buys from the grocery store. That’s when I knew this book was not what I thought it would be. The overly written prose comes off as pretentious but also a bit inefficient. I did feel a sense of dread and build up but it was all for nothing.
Nothing happens in the book and the little things that do happen, are not explained. Maybe that is the whole point but I am not that kind of reader, I like explanation and everything tying up in the end. I expected this book to be wild and it’s quite the opposite.

Thanks to Netgalley and to the publisher for allowing me an arc. Netflix supposedly picked this up for adaptation and I might watch it in hopes that they make it a little more interesting.
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