Corvina Reviews: “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman tells the story of Malorie and her two children, Boy and Girl, as they try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where mysterious creatures drive people mad and sight is a dangerous thing. Recently made popular by the Netflix adaptation by the same name, this story is just as exciting in print as it is on the small screen. The novel flips back and forth between Malorie and the children on the river, and Malorie with the housemates—just like the movie. And, much like the movie, once you start this novel it’s hard to walk away.

I started reading Bird Box Saturday night before bed and finished it Sunday morning. It’s so fast-paced, the chapters are short and the suspense makes it nearly impossible to put it down!

The fast pace was a major plus for me. I was on a deadline from the library, with my due date rapidly approaching, and was worried I wouldn’t finish in time. But, before I knew it, I was already on the last chapter. I absolutely devoured it. I think a big reason why I was able to get so lost in the story, on top of the quick succession of the novel’s events, was the movie adaptation.

I had no idea this was a book, honestly, and got roped into watching the movie with my mom one night after work. I kept telling myself, “Okay, I’ll walk away and get some work done when it gets slow and I get bored”—but that never happened. The same was true for the book. I was a little apprehensive going into it, only because I was afraid it would either be exactly like the movie, or nothing at all like it. I didn’t want to be bored, but I also hoped to answer some of the questions the movie raised for me. That was definitely accomplished. The movie adaptation definitely took some liberties—looking at you, Tom and Malorie—but nothing was drastically changed to the point of feeling like something entirely different. I enjoyed the similarities, but I enjoyed many of the differences even more.

Like, for instance, Malorie’s struggles with motherhood. This, to me, was the biggest change from book to movie. In the movie, Malorie (played by Sandra Bullock) is completely against motherhood. It’s obvious from the get-go that she didn’t want to be a mother. Why she kept the baby in the first place is beyond me, but that’s her choice. I got the impression from Movie Malorie that her pregnancy was secondary—something he could just will away if she ignored it long enough. Book Malorie is the opposite. From the moment she learns of her pregnancy, she is determined to keep it. Her decisions are made with her unborn child in mind, always. Even in the scenes of Malorie and the children in the river, we catch glimpses of the protagonist questioning herself, asking “Am I a bad mother?” She, of course, rationalizes that she’s doing the best she can to keep her kids alive in a world trying to kill them. But their safety and their wellbeing are always at the forefront of her mind—something that is not clearly conveyed in Movie Malorie, but a detail that I really enjoyed.

As much as I enjoyed the overall story, there were a few things that I wanted more of—or that threw me for a loop. The first being the age of the characters; maybe it’s because I had this image of Don as an older, bald man, and Malorie as Sandra Bullock (who does not look as old as she is, but also does not look twenty), but to learn that the oldest person in the house before Gary was only 26 threw me off guard. This isn’t really a criticism, but it definitely changed the story for me. In a way, I could relate to it more—I pictured people my age, my own friends and peers, as the housemates. It definitely hit me differently.

The one thing I really wanted from the book, though, was more information on the creatures. The movie gave us so little—I had so many questions I needed to learn more. The book didn’t give me quite as many answers as I’d hoped for—but, of course, that’s where the horror and suspense lie. (But damn, what I would do to get into Josh Malerman’s head to learn more about those things!)

And, of course, I questioned for the last few chapters of the book—(Spoiler!) how the hell did she survive, on her own, for four years with two babies? The movie, at the very least, has Tom with her—but in the book, I wondered how she did it. Did she go out on a supply run like she did to get the microphones? Did they survive off the canned goods in the basement—and if so, how many canned goods were there? Surely not enough for four years, even if it was just Malorie eating.

The other major change from book to movie that I wasn’t too crazy about was the animals’ reaction to the creatures. In the movie, the birds act as alarms for when the creatures are near. The same is true in the book, but the difference is that the birds also went batshit crazy on the river until their dead bodies fell from the sky onto Malorie and the kids. The movie never addresses whether or not animals have a bad reaction to the creatures, but I assumed they didn’t, especially since the Tucker School uses them as alarms to warn sighted people if a creature is near when they’re outside in the facility’s courtyard. This is never mentioned in the book, but I’m lead to believe this is not the case. Also, the dogs. Victor deserved better.

All in all, I would give this book a solid five stars. I really loved the suspense, the quick pace, and the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences between this and the adaptation. If you enjoyed Netflix’s version, you’ll love the book!

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