Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Alex Halprin is a typical sulky teenager who bickers with his sister and fights with his mom constantly. He sulks his way into staying home alone for a weekend while his family visits his uncle in a town about 2 hours away. Celebrating his good luck, Alex settles down to play some video games when his room suddenly collapses. He manages to escape safely, but the danger isn't over. The supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park just erupted and the explosion can be heard all over the US. Ash falls for weeks so heavily that the sun is blotted out. Alex's entire world changes. People he has know forever commit horrific acts to survive. Food and clean water are scarce. The air is hard to breathe. After recovering from the initial shock, Alex decides to find his family and make sure they are safe. The journey leads him to many unexpected places and he will experience death, sorrow, hunger, but also love and friendship. His enduring hope is to find his family at the end of it all.
I hadn't heard a lot about Ashfall before I read it. I was expecting a mediocre, typical disaster novel, but I was so incredibly wrong. Ashfall is one of the best books I've read all year. I loved just about everything about it from the eerily realistic situations to the pacing to the tone to the characters. I couldn't put the book down and read it in every spare moment of my day. The thing I most loved about the novel is the realism. There wasn't anything supernatural in the story at all. Everything that happened in the book is well within the realm of possibility. The science of supervolcanoes was very well researched and plausible, although there is a lot simply not known about them. The rapid breakdown of society after the eruption completely makes sense. The necessities of life are scarce and most people seem to try to hoard these items or forcibly take them from others. Few actually try to help each other, which is depressing but realistic. It shows how things like community, trust, and friendship are precious and rare in truly extreme situations. The pacing could have been terrible since Alex's adventures were chaotic and oftentimes rapidly changing. However, from beginning to end, through his travels and his stints staying with various people, I was always engaged and excited to see where Alex would go and what he would encounter next.
The characters are what makes this book so special. Alex is a typical teenage boy. He isn't superhuman or imbued with powers, but uses everything he has plus logic to make the best decisions. Of course he makes mistakes and blunders about a bit, but he learns and changes from an annoying sulky teen to a strong, resourceful man in a very short time. What makes Alex truly exceptional is that he never loses his humanity, his kindness, or his sense of what is right. In a post-apocalyptic world, it's shockingly easy to justify the most of horrific of acts as survival. Darla is my second favorite character as Alex's companion and friend. Alex may be skilled in Tae Kwon Do, but Darla has way more physical strength and mettle due to working on a farm since childhood. With her practical knowledge and strength, she saved Alex many times. I loved their romance. It grew organically through time spent together and developed through mutual support and care. Ashfall could have been an incredibly depressing, soul sucking book, but their sweet relationship and teasing back and forth provided just enough hope and light to counteract some of the heart rending events. I am usually against a lot of romance in non-romance novels as it tends to overpower the plot, but in this case it is essential to the balance of the novel.
Ashfall is an excellent novel, rivaling many books in the post-apocalyptic genre in general. I like that things aren't sugar coated for a teen audience, including the killing of animals for food and the general violence in this world beyond laws. I can't wait for the next book, due out in October. I would highly recommend this to just about anyone.
My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins
Read as part of Dystopian August at Presenting Lenore.