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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ashfall Not the Most Brilliant YA Dystopian, But Not Bad Either

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Alex Halprin doesn't mind being left behind when his parents and younger sister go on vacation without him.  In fact, the 15-year-old is thrilled.  He's not planning any wild parties either; he just wants to enjoy a nice, quiet weekend without anyone bugging him.  It looks as if Alex is going to get exactly what he wants.  Then a supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park erupts, covering the Midwest and beyond in a thick, choking layer of ash.  Fires break out, looting begins, and people become frantic to find food, water, shelter, help.  As Alex watches his ordered world crumble into a brutal, post-apocalyptic wasteland, he forgets about video games and alone time—he just wants to survive.

After disaster strikes, Alex realizes he can't just sit around in small town Cedar Falls, Iowa, waiting for the world to go back to normal.  Normal no longer exists.  Alex decides to take action, to hike across 140 miles of ruined terrain in the hopes of reaching Warren, Illinois, the town for which his family was heading before the volcano blew.  What he doesn't realize is just how much the world has changed in such a short amount of time.  Alex thought the biggest challenge he would face on the road would be finding food, water and shelter.  Not so.  While those are certainly issues—vital, life-or-death issues—they're nothing compared to the monsters lurking around every corner.  Only they're not monsters.  Not exactly.  They're good, Midwestern folks turned hungry, desperate and dangerous by their increasingly hopeless situation.  Does a lone, teenage boy have any hope of surviving, let alone making it all the way to Illinois?  Alex is about to find out.

Like most YA dystopians, Ashfall by Mike Mullin paints a pretty bleak picture of humanity's hope of surviving a catastrophic ecological disaster.  It's not just lack of food and water that will destroy us, according to such stories, but our own selfish, savage selves.  In the world Mullin describes, it takes less than a month for humans to turn into wild, cannibalistic beasts.  While that may be far-fetched (let's hope), it does make for an exciting, action-packed story.  While Ashfall's not especially original or brilliant, it's definitely entertaining.  With a fast-paced plot, interesting enough characters and some food-for-thought situations, it's a decent YA dystopian. Not the best and not my favorite, but not bad either.        

(Readalikes: The Road by Cormac McCarthy; The Last Survivors series [Life As We Knew It; The Dead & the Gone; This World We Live In] by Susan Beth Pfeffer; and a little like the Gone series [Gone; Hunger; Lies; Plague; Fear] by Michael Grant

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and some sexual content (not graphic)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find 


  1. Oh my gosh! I hope it takes more than a month for humans to go crazy but I doubt it. :( Scary!

  2. I know, right? Personally, I think we'd last longer than a month. There's got to be at least a month's worth of food stored in people's houses and in the grocery stores. I know it would take more than 30 days for ME to get desperate enough to eat a dog or cat, let alone another human. *Shudders*


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