Bird Box is a 2014 post-apocalyptic novel and the debut novel by American writer and singer Josh Malerman. The book was first published in the United Kingdom on March 27, 2014, through Harper Voyager and in the United States on May 13, 2014, through Ecco Press. The book follows a woman who must find a way to guide herself and her children to safety despite the potential threat from an unseen adversary. The story is partially told via flashbacks and takes place during three time periods.
Bird Box follows the character of Malorie and is set during three different time periods: the beginning of The Problem (about five years prior to the events at the start of the book), shortly before the birth of the two children, and the present day. The following synopsis is laid out in chronological order.
The story begins with Malorie standing in the kitchen, contemplating if it is finally the time to brave a journey and leave what has been home for her and her two four-year-old children. She looks at what used to be a grand house, noting the cracks on the dishes and the horrible mess that surrounds her. She believes that the fog will give them enough protection against something that's scary enough for her to let her children stay inside the house with covered windows. Neither child has experienced the sight of a bright sky or dawn in their four years of existence. Over the years she has taught the children to see with their ears but feels regret for all they have missed.
Finally she decides to set out on the journey, instructing the children to follow her orders and never take their blindfolds off, no matter what happens.
The narrative flashes back to before the children were born. While the news about mass suicides in Russia dominates the news, Malorie is more concerned with the possibility that she is pregnant as a result of a one-night stand, especially as the man will not return her calls. Malorie's sister, Shannon, has expressed concerns about some odd reports of people abruptly going mad and brutally attacking those around them and then killing themselves, shortly after they have seen an unknown "something". Malorie initially is skeptical of these incidents, but is forced to admit that this is a legitimate problem when incidents start occurring in Upper Peninsula. By this point, the visions are referred to as "creatures" and the situation as a whole is commonly referred to as "The Problem." Malorie finds herself alone when Shannon kills herself after a brief exposure outside. Malorie then finds herself with a group of survivors at a house, everyone fearful of the outside.
Once there she meets Tom and four other survivors: Charlie, Tom, Don, and Lucy. They are soon joined by Olympia, who, like Malorie, is about 4 months pregnant. The mood in the house is tense, with mysterious sounds causing alarm. Their fear is augmented because no one is sure what to be on the lookout for, and they close their eyes or blindfold themselves if they go outside or open a door. Eventually, Tom decides to launch some expeditions to find more food and resources, and they return bearing supplies as well as disturbing findings about what has become of the world.
Soon, a new person knocks on their door to be let in: Gary. They admit him, but some are wary of his demeanor and alleged history. Gary claims to have come from another refuge, having left due to the schemes of a fellow refugee, Frank. Gary describes Frank as a man who the other residents thought was mad. He kept a notebook in which he explained that the creatures were not there to harm them and that people only went insane because they were weak-minded and easily suggestible, and believed that was what was supposed to happen. Gary explains that one day Frank left with his notebook, leaving the doors open and tearing down the window drapes, exposing all of his housemates to the creatures. Malorie surreptitiously goes through Gary's belongings and finds what is clearly Frank's notebook of crazy rantings, and infers that Gary is probably Frank. Malorie confronts him and the housemates evict Gary, much to the dismay of housemate Don, over whom Gary exercises an almost Svengali-like sway. Eventually Olympia and Malorie go into labor at the same time. Gary (who has been kept hidden in the cellar by Don) takes advantage of the situation to open the doors and rip down the window covers, letting creatures into the house. The arrival of the creatures drives everyone mad except Malorie, as she keeps her eyes closed and covers the eyes of both her own, and Olympia's child. Malorie has given birth to a boy, and Olympia to a girl.
Moments later, Malorie hears the phone ring and manages to answer it, which connects her with a survivor named Rick. He says that he's one of 108 people living in a self-contained refuge without any windows and invites her to travel there with the infants. He gives her instructions to the refuge via the river, cautioning her that at one juncture she will have to remove her blindfold to steer onto one particular fork in the river. Malorie goes through the house and finds that everyone else is dead and that Gary has vanished.
The journey to Rick's place will not be possible with two babies.
After the birth
Malorie begins harshly training the children to automatically keep their eyes closed upon waking and to sharpen their senses of hearing so they can tell if anyone or anything approaches and pinpoint its location. She's caught some animals to let them hear their sounds in preparation for the day that they'll be ready to leave the "house" permanently.
She calls them only "Girl" and "Boy", because she feels that names are an unnecessary luxury. Malorie is now forced to forage for supplies on her own. She takes her dog Victor with her but on one trip it sees a creature and goes mad, proving that it's not just humans who are affected by The Problem. Meanwhile, she begins to plan their escape. She discovers a rowboat she can use to get to Rick's haven, and begins awaiting an opportunity to begin the courageous act. Malorie marks the escape route and secures the boat that they'll use for the venture.
Malorie travels down the nearby river for over 48 hours to try to reach safety with Boy and Girl. As they are rowing there is a man convincing them to take their blindfolds off and look at the creature because it’s “beautiful". People who were deemed "insane" before are not affected by it and do not need blindfolds. They continue on until they reach a point in the river where Malorie must remove her blindfold, a concept that terrifies her, to navigate through the rapids. Despite this, she refuses to remove the blindfold and manages to guide the three of them to the refuge, where they are met by Rick. Once there Malorie is greeted by hundreds of people and an enclosed greenhouse full of birds and greenery. She discovers that many of the people have intentionally blinded themselves and their children to survive. Malorie refuses to do the same to her kids. She is assured by Rick that this isn’t forced and they have a choice.
Critical reception for Bird Box has been positive and Malerman has received comparisons to Stephen King and Jonathan Carroll. The A.V. Club gave the book a B rating, writing "Malerman overreaches a bit in his debut, which could use as much attention to the cast as to the mood, but the mood is chillingly effective. Reading it feels like accepting a dare to walk into a strange place, eyes closed, with no idea who, or what, might be reaching out to make contact."Malerman wrote the rough draft of Bird Box prior to the release of the 2008 M. Night Shyamalan film The Happening and the 2009 film The Road (although the novel The Road was written in 2006), which caused him to worry that the book "might get lost in the shuffle."
Awards and nominations
Michigan Notable Book Award (2015, won)
James Herbert Award (2015, nominated)
Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel (2015, nominated)
Film rights to Bird Box were optioned by Universal Studios in 2013, prior to the book's release. Scott Stuber and Chris Morgan were set to produce the film, with Andy Muschietti (It, Mama) as director and screenwriter Eric Heisserer in negotiations to pen the script. Netflix then acquired the rights of the book with Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich in starring roles and Susanne Bier as the director.