Ashfall by Mike Mullin
(Based on an ARC provided by the author.)
Alex's journey is laborious and often heart wrenching as he cross-country skis through the ash. He makes his way through cities, towns, and open, desolated land, meeting friends and strangers alike and finds himself running from cutthroat murderers, looters, and others like him just trying to survive. At one stop, Alex passes out from injuries and ends up at a farm where strangers Darla and her mother nurse him back to health; a steady relationship begins to bond the two teenagers. When tragedy strikes again and forces them back on the road, Darla accompanies Alex on his journey to Illinois, and they continue to skirt danger, both environmental and man-made.
It's a realistic, post-apocalyptic thriller. By that, I mean that the thrills are quick and gripping, but they aren't on every page; Mullin doesn't cop out to the Hollywood-ready scripts that a lot of authors (James Patterson comes to mind) throw at young readers. Instead, Mullin has created a storyline full of highs and lows with mature downtime rooted in the everyday difficulties of physical and emotional survival. It's the mix of action, science, thrills, romance, and the nitty-gritty details that make this book so gripping and good.
While I found Ashfall a little slow going at first, Mullin seemed to quickly gain more confidence in his own voice as the plot got going, and after the first few chapters I found myself thinking less about the words he used and more about what was happening, a good sign in any plot-driven, post-apocalyptic story.
The beauty of Ashfall is that the protagonist matures gradually as time goes on. Alex is believable, if conveniently physically fit for a video gamer (he has umpteen belts in taekwando), and his horror, exhaustion, and even physical arousal (nothing too descriptive) all keep him from becoming a super-human survivor. In fact, for a good portion of the book Darla outdoes him: she knows her tools, can slaughter and butcher a rabbit with minimal waste, and is the female equivalent of a teenage MacGyver.
Fans of Michael Grant's Gone series will appreciate this rough, dismal world where kids survive almost by determination alone. The story is close enough to a potential reality to be chilling: as Grant himself said of Ashfall, "The scariest apocalypse is one that could really happen."
Planned as the start of a trilogy, Ashfall is sure to appeal to readers of The Hunger Games, Gone, Hatchet, and any other number of survival and post-apocalyptic stories. (Check out the first two chapters here.) This is one to keep on your to-read list once it hits shelves on October 11th--I definitely recommend it!
Age 14+ (some mature content)
Copyright October 2011
Image from http://www.mikemullinauthor.com/