Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ashfall

Ashfall

Mike Mullen
Fiction
For ages 14 and up
Tanglewood Press, 2011   ISBN: 978-1933718552

Almost sixteen-year-old Alex cannot believe that his parents have let him stay home alone for the whole weekend. The plan was that the whole family would go to Uncle Paul’s farm in Warren, Illinois, but Alex made it clear that he had no interest in going to Warren, and eventually his mother agreed that he could stay home. Alex is happily playing World of Warcraft on his computer in his room when his life suddenly and irrevocably changes. His house is hit by something huge, and Alex finds himself trapped in his wrecked home, which then starts to burn. By some miracle, Alex is able to get out of the house, and when he realizes that there is no power and no phone service of any kind, he runs to the fire station to get help.

When the fire is extinguished, it is clear that Alex cannot stay in his home. His neighbors, Darren and Joe, offer to take him until his parents can be contacted. Surely phone service will soon return. Then loud explosive noises begin. They sound rather like thunder, but they are louder, so loud in fact that they make Alex’s ears hurt. Alex, Darren, and Joe run into Darren and Joe’s house, they stuff toilet paper into their ears and wear stereo headsets. Doing this does muffle the sound a little, but it also makes it impossible for Alex and his neighbors to talk to each other. The three of them take refuge in the bathroom, lying together in the tub all night hoping that the sound will stop and that power will be restored soon.

In the morning, Alex wakes up to find himself in complete darkness. The power has not been turned back on, and outside ash is falling out of the sky. After eating something, Alex and his friends communicate by writing on a piece of paper. Alex finds out that the Yellowstone supervolcano has erupted, and that a large part of the country has been affected. No one knows how long the noise will last and it may take weeks before the ash fall and darkness ends.

The explosions finally stop, rain falls, and the sky lightens a little. Alex, Darren, and Joe cook some meat on their grill and then someone knocks on the door. Even though Darren cautions him not to, Joe opens the door and then all hell breaks loose. Three men, looters, force their way into the house and Joe injured. When Darren sees Joe lying on the floor, he goes mad with rage and he starts shooting. The three looters are killed and Alex flees the house, horrified by what he has seen.

Alex goes back to his house and gets some supplies together. He feels that the only thing he can do now is to somehow get to Warren to find his family. Bicycles and cars are no use because of the ash, so Alex decides to use his father’s cross-country skis. As he makes his way out of the town he sees things that shock and disturb him. His town used to be such a friendly place, but now houses and stores are being looted and violence seems to be waiting around every corner.

Being out in the country makes Alex feel a little better, a little safer, until Alex encounters a lone man. The man seems friendly enough at first, but then he becomes violent. Alex is gravely injured when the man hits him with an axe, and the boy has no choice but to run. He manages to find a barn and then collapses.

When Alex wakes up he finds out that he has been taken in by a kind lady called Mrs. Edmunds. Her daughter, Darla, is not happy to see Alex because she does not want to waste any of their precious food and water on him, but Mrs. Edmunds insists that they need to take care of Alex, and Darla sews up the axe wound that Alex received.

Over time, as Alex heals from his injury, Alex and Darla become friends, and they work together to find ways to make life easier. Alex dares to hope that maybe they will be able to survive after all. Then the unthinkable happens.

In this extraordinary book, the author takes his readers on a roller coaster adventure that is full of tension, surprises, grief, and loss. In the story a place that should be a refuge turns out to be a prison, and people who should be allies turn out to be enemies. Readers might find themselves wondering what they would do if they were in Alex’s place. How would they cope if their world changed so dramatically so suddenly?

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