Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Big Dark Audio

The Big Dark Audio

Rodman Philbrick
For ages 8 to 12
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Michael Crouch
Scholastic , 2016   ISBN: 978-0545909297

It is New Year’s Eve and the children in Harmony, New Hampshire, are delighted because they are getting to do something a little different this year. They don’t have to watch “The stupid ball drop on boring old TV,” and they are not being sent to bed early. Instead, they, and the rest of the people in the town, are outside on a cold snowy night watching the northern lights. What a spectacle it is, and apparently people as far south as Cuba are able to see the phenomenon because of a “wicked big sun storm.” This will be something that they will be able to talk about for years to come.

As it turns out, the night becomes more memorable than anyone expects. Just before midnight there is a burst of bright light in the sky and when everyone’s eyes have recovered, they see that the night sky is now black. The northern lights are gone, as are all the lights from cars, houses and street lights. Even the flashlights people are holding are dead. Nothing that runs on electricity is working and nothing that needs a battery to function is working. No one can really explain what on earth is going on.

That night Charlie Cobb, his sister Becca and their mother do their best to stay warm. It is a freezing night, but they have a wood stove and lots of wood, so they should be all right for a while. They can melt snow on the stove to get water, and boil it for drinking as well. Charlie, and most of the folks in Harmony, feel confident that the power will soon come back on.

In the morning, things look better, mostly because it isn’t dark. The townsfolk meet at the school to talk about what has happened. The general belief is that a solar flare knocked out the grid. Then Mr. Mangano, the school science teacher, says that his compass has gone haywire. The needle on the compass is no longer pointing to the north. He suggests that the magnetic pole of the earth has shifted, which is why nothing that needs an electrical current will work. The magnetic field of the earth has shifted many times before, so this is nothing new. What is new is that the last time it happened, humans were not around.

The situation in Harmony gets a lot worse when the meeting at the school is interrupted by the sound of gun shots. When Charlie goes to investigate, he sees that Mr. Bragg, the local white supremacist conspiracy theory nut, is shooting at the ATM trying to get money out of it. He and his gun toting extended family members live in a heavily guarded compound outside of town, and everyone tries to stay out of their way. Mr. Bragg starts to rant on about how the current crisis was deliberately created by the government, whose leaders are being influenced by Jews and other people. He criticizes the owner of the local shop, Mrs. Adler, because she is only accepting cash. What else can she do? None of the machines in her store work so that she can accept credit or debit cards. Mr. Bragg is convinced that she is part of the conspiracy because she is Jewish.

Thankfully, Mr. Kingman, the school janitor and the town’s volunteer police officer steps in, and he stands up to Mr. Bragg. For now at least is able to deflect the man’s irrational anger before he does anything stupid. However no one feels particularly confident that Mr. Kingman will able to hold off Mr. Bragg and his armed-to-the-teeth sons forever.

Though life is hard, and everyone is worried about what Mr. Bragg is going to do next, the people in Harmony manage to cope pretty well. Even after Mr. Bragg burns the store down, they manage. Then Charlie’s mother collapses. Her diabetes medication is running low and there is none to be had in town. All the medications that there were in town burned up in the store fire. Charlie decides that the only thing he can do is to ski to the city of Concord to try to find some medication for his mother, and he is going to have to go without her permission. The journey will be long and very cold, but it has to be done.

In this remarkable story the author explores how the people in a community respond when they no longer have power of any kind. The event brings out the worst in some, and the best in others. It is interesting to see how Charlie discovers important things about people as he negotiates a very frightening and sometimes dangerous situation.