Continuing the apocalyptic theme, I recently read an engaging story called Ashfall by Mike Mullins. Alex, a nerdy 16 yr old boy who loves World of Warcraft and karate, stays at home in Iowa for the weekend while his parents and sister go to visit an uncle on his farm in Illinois. He settles in for an uneventful weekend of computer games and junk food when his house is hit by something and starts on fire, trapped under his desk, Alex has to climb out to save himself. This is just the beginning of the action, as Alex is thrown into one bad situation after another. He discovers that a giant volcano has erupted under Yellowstone, but the ash interferes in all communication and Alex is left alone. Determined to find his family in Illinois, Alex sets off on his own–most of his supplies are destroyed in the initial blast. Unprepared and slogging through a drift of ash feet deep, Alex encounters numerous dangers, both starvation, dehydration, violent weather, and violent people.
This is a quick and engrossing read, that caught me from the beginning and didn’t spit me out until the last word. I found myself willing to believe all kinds of crazy things because the story moved so fast and with so much action, only after the story was over did some of the issues start to emerge. Alex is freakishly lucky, he should have died pretty much every chapter–something terrible would happen, and somehow he’d miraculously survive. Just when he was about to starve food would turn up–to such a great degree that I stopped really worrying about if he was going to die. In some ways this is an unusually optimistic apocalyptic vision, people take him in and help him, food turns up, he doesn’t get infections from grievous injury or die from horrendous exposure.
In many ways this is a more action packed variation of Life as We Knew It, but less reflective and less dark. Both feature 16 yr old ordinary kids who face a world that is rapidly changing, but Alex never really has to face the sort of real immediate personal devastation of the destruction. In addition, Ashfall skips right from the blast to a world turned upside down, just vaguely referring to things that happened while Alex is hiding out.
Kids who enjoyed Life as We Knew It will enjoy this as well, but of the two I find Pfeffer’s vision to be more powerful and effective in showing a world falling apart.