Wednesday, April 4, 2012


After a supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park erupts and destroys his Iowa home, fifteen-year-old Alex sets out to find his parents and sister in another state. Under a blanket of steady falling ash, he treks through the increasingly dangerous countryside, meeting Darla, a farmer who is probably the most capable character I've encountered in years. Ashfall is Mike Mullin's relentless debut novel and the first in a trilogy that fans of dystopian literature will love.

Mullin's view of our post-apocalyptic world is grim, much more than in books like Life As We Knew It, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Pretties. This is more comparable to The Road (not that I'd know, eek) or The Walking Dead. It's also probably more realistic--when goods run out, things get dire. It's for this reason that I don't think Ashfall is suitable for middle school students. Violence, rape, and cannibalism are all facts of life in the wake of the eruption.

Books like this always make me want to stock my cabinets and become more self-sufficient. I don't know anybody who grew up on a farm, so I wonder if Darla is a realistic character. I feel like she might be, which shames a useless city girl like me.

There are some great parts of the novel; it's suspenseful and full of unexpected surprises. Perhaps my favorite aspect was how it broached safe sex. Alex and Darla have an intense courtship and want to make it more physical. Their discussions are among the most pragmatic I've encountered and far more mature than I've seen between adults in similar "end of days" situations, like on "Lost". My one quibble is that he negates it by having them wonder if condoms are reusable and never answering the question (They're not, kids!).

For the first book in a series, Ashfall wraps up fairly nicely and I don't feel a burning urge to read Ashen Winter when it comes out in October. I guess I prefer my blissful ignorance, although I will pick up a few extra cans of tuna at the market when I go next.

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