Ashfall is written by Mike Mullin and was published by Tanglewood in 2011. It is Mullin’s first novel and the first in what will probably be either a duology or a trilogy (the second book, Ashen Winter, is due out in October). Mullin’s website can be found here.
Genre: Realistic, Survival
“Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano, so large that the caldera can only be seen by plane or satellite. And by some scientific measurements, it could be overdue for an eruption.
For Alex, being alone for the weekend means freedom from his parents and the chance to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek, searching for his family and finding help in Darla, his travel partner. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster.”
“I heard a cracking noise, like the sound the hackberry tree in our backyard had made when dad cut it down last year, but louder: a forest of hackberries, breaking together. The floor tilted, and I fell across the suddenly angled room, arms and legs flailing. I screamed by couldn’t hear myself over the noise: a boom and then a whistling sound—incoming artillery from a war movie, but played in reverse. My back hit the wall on the far side of the room, and the desk slid across the floor toward me. I wrapped myself into a ball, hands over the back of my neck, praying my desk wouldn’t crush me. It rolled, painfully lipped my right shoulder, and came to rest above me, forming a small triangular space between the floor and wall. I heard another crash, and everything shook violently for a second.”
“I stood nearby and watched them, feeling utterly helpless. All my fury washed away in a wave of despair. What could I do or say? Less than a month ago I might have dialed 911 on my cell phone, asked Mom or Dad for help, or run to Darren and Joe’s house. Now none of those options were available. Darla and I were alone with her dying mother and the corpse of some guy called Ferret. Alone on a vast plain of unforgiving gray ash.”
Warnings: Violence, sex, lots of gory death
Recommended Age Range: 16+
What I Liked:
I tend to like survival novels and this one was very realistic. It was a plausible event and people reacted in plausible ways. The ending had that “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me” punch and feel to it, but the last few sentences wrapped everything up nicely—a cliffhanger ending, but one that made the book feel like its own book instead of just the first of a two-parter.
The suspense was well-executed and the characters’ growth was pleasing to see (if a bit too nicely wrapped up and explained by the main character himself at the end).
What I Didn’t Like:
This was a good book. But there were a number of things that I just didn’t like about it. If you read my review of Willow, then you know how I feel about teenage sex (for those who didn’t: I don’t like it). And this book was really just chock-full of it (not the actual sex itself, but thoughts, emotions, and just plain talking about it as if it was the most important thing ever, never mind the fact that you’re starving to death and really should be talking about, I don’t know, procuring food. Then again, maybe that’s actually an accurate portrayal of how a teenager’s mind works, especially a boy’s).
There was a lot of violence and descriptions of disgusting, gory things, like a man who was eaten by pigs. Textually, the stuff doesn’t really affect me that much (it’s more when it’s visual), but this was just…a lot.
Alex’s talk with his uncle at the end was supposed to show Alex’s growth as a character, but to me, really just came out ridiculously over-the-top, corny, and just plain wrong. The character is not supposed to tell you about his growth and why he grew and how and when and this is why this other character must let him do this. Arrogant much?
Also, whenever I think of the name “Darla” I think of that girl screaming “Fishy!” and banging on the aquarium and killing fish by shaking the bag in Finding Nemo.
Ashfall, while being fairly realistic and a good survival story, just doesn’t sit well with me because of the actions of the characters and the graphic descriptions of violence. It’s not my cup of tea, but that’s not to say that you won’t like it.
Coming Up Next: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley