By Lamar Giles
“So many times in history it’s the youth who see the clearest and can save the day” (271).
The Getaway follows Jay and a group of black teens whose families live and work at Karloff Country: an almost self-sufficient luxury resort hidden in the Shenandoah Valley. With its own power plant, wastewater treatment, schools, a farm-to-table food production system, fancy restaurants, theme parks, and other amenities the residents need, the resort offers a full range of exceptional experiences for wealthy patrons, whose every whim is a command. It operates as an exclusive Disneyland of sorts, with most patrons being white millionaire class and most employees being Black or people of color. For these workers, Karloff Country offers an “enviable promise of housing, food, safety, and security” (13) in a world that is gradually falling apart under multiple stressors of climate change-induced disasters. By chapter 12, the world outside experiences an undefined societal collapse, and Karloff Country is sealed off. The new arrivals are a handful of the ultrawealthy Trustees—Karloff Country investors—with their families. Karloff Country is their haven during the collapse and from which they plan to reemerge “after the more painful parts of the transition when the world needed saviors with big money and big ideas” (343). Supported by drones, electronic surveillance, and apps that can shock (or even electrocute) anyone wearing a wristband, the Trustees brutalize the Black and Brown staff into slave-like submission. Jay, Zeke, Saychelle, and other community members form the Resistance to fight back. Another Resistance is formed by one of the betrayed inner circle managers, Barnabus, whose forces murder all the Trustees. “We all thought we were escaping the degradation of the outside world. Now we’re no more than pets with shock collars,” he realizes (271). Yet Barnabus is unable to take control of Karloff County and is killed in the attempt. When a self-destruct code is activated, much of Karloff Country is blown up. The book ends with Jay and Saychelle leaving “to find our people. Wherever we go” (382); Zeke and others choose to stay in Karolff “to watch this place … for signs of rising trouble” in the future (374).
The Getaway is an intense novel featuring descriptions of murder, torture, violence, racism, and other forms of human abuse that will leave readers reeling. Used with caution, it is also an eye-opening novel for climate literacy education. It offers a compelling vision of climate injustice, of how climate injustice is entangled with racial injustice, and how the neoliberal market economy is driving climate change and biodiversity loss. The novel’s specific target is the superrich (see the 1 percent, billionaires), and their fantasies of accelerating the climate change-driven societal collapse in order to remain in power as the world burns and emerge even more powerful out of the wreckage (see Survival of the Richest, hoarding, apocalypse, eco-apartheid).
In The Getaway Karloff Country is designed from the start as a heavily fortified climate haven for the Trustees to survive the apocalypse. “You’ve invested your vast resources … and in a dire time, you’ve helped execute our plans—your plans—to perfection,” Blythe Karloff tells the Trustees at the opening banquet. “Everyone here saw the world speeding toward disaster. And, in the way true innovators do, you didn’t … try to stomp the brakes for some futile effort to wrench the gears of fate into reverse. As the masses raced to the brink, we said … speed up!” (161-62). Praising themselves as “the finest thinkers, fighters, and doers” (162), the Trustees see themselves as invulnerable, entitled, above morality and law. In their eyes, the Karloff Country staff—called Helpers—are merely a resource to be exploited as they see fit in a modern version of slavery. The novel links this extractive mindset to capitalism, ecocide, and other forms of extractivism that are destroying Earth today. It communicates that climate change is not merely a weather issue but a social and racial justice issue, entangled with economy, politics, wealth inequality, poverty, food deserts, artificial scarcity, hoarding, and other challenges today. Most of all, The Getaway allows us to glimpse the connections between climate change and systemic racism, suggesting that climate justice and racial justice are two sides of the same healing process. Just like Jay’s initial sense of security is proven false, so too the superrich sense of security from climate emergency is false because no future can be built on racism, exploitation, and class divide. Contrasted to these forces is the story of the resilience of the Black community, whose loyalty, mutual support, and communitarian values are shown as powerful tools to resist oppression. The Getaway raises many questions, prompting readers to wonder how, as a society, we are supposed to prevent the kind of wealth inequality that destroys the world of many for the benefit of the few. It affirms the power of collective action—for climate and for people—casting Jay as a model to inspire youth to make a stand toward an inclusive, sustainable future.
©2023 ClimateLit (Shalyn Quandt, with later edits by Marek Oziewicz)
Audience: Rebels (14-older)
Topics: Activism, Apocalypse, Biodiversity Loss, Capitalism, Climate Apartheid, Climate Change, Climate Crisis, Climate Haven, Climate Justice, Collective Action, Dystopia, Ecocidal Market Economy, Ecocide, Environmental Injustice, Environmental Justice, Extractivism, Food Deserts, Hoarding, One Percent, Poverty, Racial Injustice, Racial Justice, Racism, Resilience, Societal Collapse, Survival of the Richest, Sustainability, Sustainable Development, System Change, Systemic Racism, Ultra-rich, Wealth Inequality, Youth Climate Activism