For those of you who are sick of the dystopian genre, please do not skip this one over. It does not feature kids going at one another in a large arena, nor does it have some weird spacey background. I found Ashfall, by Mike Mullin to be completely unique, and highly recommended.
Alex is a normal teen, fighting with his mom, and refusing to visit relatives. He stays home while they go for a weekend away, and while they are gone, all Hell breaks loose. First, the electricity goes out. Then, something massive hits Alex’s house, causing a fire. Alex is trapped in his home, struggling to get out before being burned alive. But that’s nothing compared to what happens when he gets out. It turns out all of the problems were caused by a supervolcano under Yellowstone, 900 miles from Alex’s home. The noise from the volcano catches up to them, and then the ash. It covers everything and leaves everyone stranded. Alex’s only goal is to make it to his family, hundreds of miles away.
He sets off on his journey, getting into fights with thugs, battling the abnormal elements, and trying to survive. Along the way he acquires a partner in the form of Darla, who keeps him company and balances his impulses with her logic. They need to find food, shelter, warmth, and cannot even breathe without face masks. This is an awful way to travel, but somehow, these two make it work for them.
This book is seriously scary in some very real ways. People are awful to one another when they don’t know what the future looks like. There is violence, anger, paranoia, and theft. On the road Alex and Darla encounter people just fighting to survive like themselves, and the reader is immersed in a “what would I do” idea as the teens struggle to be kind but have to put their own survival ahead of them too.
I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road while reading this book, which also featured people travelling after an apocalyptic event, and had a lot of the same problems coping with the elements. However, Ashfall stood out because it took place directly after the incident, and although the characters knew what was happening, there was really no way to remedy it.
One of the most frightening things about this book to me was that the enemies were not monsters, but people themselves. The other thing that gripped me was just the idea of the supervolcano, which does exist, and has erupted in the past. Mullin did his research, and there is even a Q&A with him at the end of the book about the subject matter.
The book has a sequel coming out soon, and I look forward to seeing how Alex continues to cope with his dark, ash-covered world.