Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

It’s impossible to be able to tell what exactly is going to change your life.  It could be a phone call, a letter, an email, an offer, a random conversation… or it could be a gigantic flying piece of rock jetting into your room and splitting your house in half.  This is exactly what happens to our protagonist, Alex, while he’s alone in his room playing on the computer when his parents and little sister are visiting extended family.  In just a second, Alex’s life goes from typical and predictable, to absolutely out of control.  As it turns out, a supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park has erupted, which has caused Alex’s hometown (900 miles away) to be plunged into darkness and nightmarish chaos.  At first, Alex assumes he should wait in his neighborhood for his parents to return, but when that is no longer an option he heads out to look for his family, and discovers that his hometown is not the only place affected by the eruption.

I can barely begin to describe what this book did to my brain.  I couldn’t stop talking about it with my friends for days after I finished it.  I read it in about one sitting while I was on the train back to school, and it absolutely blew me away.  It also scared the crap out of me, because there is actually a supervolcano in Yellowstone, and it will eventually erupt, and all the scary/intense/life-threatening things that happen to Alex and the people he meets will probably happen to everyone who is alive during the supervolcano eruption.  Yikes.  Mullin obviously put a ton of effort into the research he did for this book, and it shows.  That’s sort of what makes it so terrifying. In the afterward, he explains all the research he did, and I almost didn’t want to read it, because I didn’t want there to be proof behind the horror.  But I did, and I don’t regret it, because I love knowing how smart and thoughtful authors are.  Makes me have hope for myself.  Anyway, besides the realistic terror, I was super impressed by how each character we meet (including Alex) is entirely whole.  Even if we only see them for a chapter or less, each character is beautifully written and carefully thought out… even the frightening ones we never wanted to meet.  Watching Alex’s journey from a bit of a smart-mouthed brat, to a strong, brave, caring, three-dimensional young man is also astounding and fun to be a part of (even when some of the events that may trigger this change in him are a little disturbing).  Oh, and I can’t forget the badass powerhouse Darla, who Alex meets along the way and develops feelings for.  She is hands-down the best character in the book, because she is brilliant, strong both emotionally and physically, resilient, and doesn’t take crap from anybody (especially Alex).  The two make a fantastic team you root for until the very end.

It’s hard for me to place an age on this book, because although the reading level is probably at 12 or 13, the violence is so realistic and prevalent.  I’m serious: there is quite a bit of violence in this book, and although I believe almost all of it is necessary, it’s still pretty gory.  For that, I’m going to stick with 14-15 for this one.  This is the perfect book for teens who love dystopian/disaster novels with a strong male and female lead.  Though, to be honest, it’s basically a must-read for everyone.  I still can’t get past how much effort went into crafting this piece of fantastic literature.  Mullin is an up-and-coming novelist we should all keep our eyes on!

“Ashfall” by Mike Mullin has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

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