Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When the Ash Begins to Fall...

On the front cover of this book, Michael Grant is quoted as saying, "The scariest apocalypse is one that could really happen." He is so terrifyingly correct. When we think about an apocalypse, we like the comfort that it won't happen. With Ashfall, by Mike Mullin, you won't have that comfort. In fact, it will make you incredibly uncomfortable and terrified all in one fell swoop... and you will love every minute of it!

Alex is excited for a weekend in the house alone while his family goes to his uncle's farm in Illinois. What he doesn't expect is a chunk of flaming rock to be hurled 900 miles from Yellowstone National Park where the supervolcano has finally blown. What was supposed to be a fun, independent weekend has become the end of life as Alex knew it. After he escapes the burning wreckage of his house, he stays with his neighbors while the terrifying explosions of the volcano continue. But after a few days, when looters attack the house and his neighbor kills them, Alex knows he must find his family (and hopefully escape the madness). Unfortunately, with ash falling steadily and crushing buildings and cars, the couple hour car ride seems like an eternity away. Alex grabs his father's old cross country skis and starts his journey.

Along the way he encounters some kind people, lots of terrified people (many with guns) and a few maniacs. When Alex is attacked by a madman with a hatchet named Target, he gets away but is gushing blood from his ribcage. He falls into a barn, and luckily it was the right barn. Darla and her mother find Alex and put him back together. He stays with them for a while, but when Target returns, Alex knows he must go back to his journey to find his family. With nothing left, Darla joins him on the terrifying journey, but will they make it back to Alex's family?

This was an amazing example of post-apocalyptic literature, and a boundary breaking example of young adult literature. The circumstances of the story are of course terrifying, but Mullin doesn't hold back when he tells the tale of what will really happen to a lone teenager when the world falls apart. There is rape, starvation, accidents, violence, and all of it could and would really happen. This book grabs the reader from the first page and doesn't let go even as you finish the last page. It is a book young adults will appreciate because it speaks to them like adults. There is no sugar-coating in this story, no fluff. Just cold, hard reality that will put a knot in your stomach. We all know teenagers can smell condescension from a mile away, and this book is anything but. It will make young readers feel adult and mature while still being accessible for young adult reading levels.

The book is very mature and might be best left for grades 10 and up. I would give it to a younger student only if I was sure they could handle the mature subject matter. Nothing in the book is gratuitous or melodramatic. It is just stark, simple and realistic. Yes there are rape and murder scenes, but they are handled tactfully. Don't ignore this book because it is mature. Pick it up or give it to a student because it is written with respect to young adults as people- not kids- who can handle mature situations. This is one of the best PA stories I have read in a long time, and waiting until October 2012 for the sequel is going to be pure torture!

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