From the Publisher
“This post-apocalyptic tale is one that combines reality with the stuff of nightmares, crawls under your skin, and forces you to question your own courage and survival instincts.”
— Marissa Meyer, author of Cinder
In this grim, postapocalyptic tale, the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, covering much of North America in volcanic ash and plunging the world into nuclear winter. Fifteen-year-old Alex Halprin refused a family trip to visit relatives in Illinois, so he’s home alone in Iowa when the eruption occurs. After seeing a neighbor kill three looters, Alex heads east through falling ash, dropping temperatures, and torrential storms, hoping to find his family. Soon he’s joined by another survivor, Darla Edmunds, with whom he falls in love. Debut novelist Mullin puts his characters through hell, depicting numerous deaths in detail (“Blam-Blam! His head pretty much burst, showering my legs with blood and bits of hair and skull and brain”). There’s also cannibalism and a rape before the novel comes to a believable ending; “happy” is perhaps too much to ask for, but Alex does find a measure of stability. The book is well written and its protagonists are well-drawn, particularly the nontraditional and mechanically inclined Darla. Although more appropriate for older teens due to its violence, this is a riveting tale of survival. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
ALAN Review - Jacqueline Bach
After the supervolcano at Yellowstone erupts, Alex finds himself plunged into an ashcovered world. Eager to find his family, who has gone on a family trip, Alex traverses 140 miles of dangerous terrain and meets people who have resorted to primitive ways of living in order to survive, including extreme acts of violence and utter hopelessness. Along the way, he meets Darla, another teenager who finds herself alone in this uninhabitable wasteland, and the two embark on an unforgettable journey. As in Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It, Mullen manages to create a believably devastated world in which there are few people to trust and even fewer resources. He deals with some of the more adult aspects of life many teenagers encounter, such as having sex and the embarrassment of relieving bodily waste in public. Readers who appreciate a little romance with their action adventure stories will enjoy Alex and Darla's. Reviewer: Jacqueline Bach
Children's Literature - Julia Beiker
Alex's parents and little sister head to his uncle's house while he stays behind to enjoy his freedom until all Hades lets loose. It starts with a meteor type rock exploding into his bedroom causing his part of the house to burn. He reaches for his house and cell phones only to find them dead. He runs to the fire station and watches as they slowly put out the fire at his house. He moves in with his neighbors. The outside world begins to detonate like sticks of dynamite until he cannot think straight from all the noise. Then the bad only gets worse as the world goes completely crazy. He winds up leaving his neighbors behind to search for his family and discovers the world must be coming to an end. Each page takes the reader to a different dimension of what the beginning of the end would look and sound like including bringing out the worst and best in human nature. The characters feel real authentic right down to Alex's reactionswhat a teenager would do given these circumstances, and especially his flaws in judgment. The last chapter leads the reader to the sequel coming out in 2012 entitled Ashen Winter. Reviewer: Julia Beiker
VOYA - Jeff Mann
High school student Alex Halprin's world changes instantly. When a supervolcano erupts in Yellowstone, he finds himself alone in his Iowa hometown struggling to survive. This new world finds him searching for the things he has always taken for granted: water, food, and shelter. With his parents away visiting relatives and his home destroyed by debris from the volcano, Alex decides to search for his parents. But this new world is covered in ash from the volcano and inhabited by other citizens figuring out how to live in this posteruption world. Alex encounters many people on his long and slow journey through the ash and snowsome people have banded together and formed functioning societies, while others have taken to looting and violence to survive. Along the way Alex gains a travel companion, a resourceful girl named Darla, whose mother was murdered while Alex was staying with her family. The two's search for his family includes a brief stay in a FEMA prison camp, encounters with other survivors, and ultimately leads them to his uncle's house, where the search ends in disappointment. Ashfall takes the eruption of a supervolcano and creates an often bleak dystopian future where civil liberties have been suspended and where FEMA runs camps to contain the victims of the natural disaster. The character's journey to find his parents encompasses much of the first half of the novel. Although the novel is peppered with adventure and action, the first half seems exceeding long, and the descriptions of the ash world and Alex's journey on skis through this ash seem slightly repetitive. Mullin's description of the FEMA camp and how families and smaller societies band together to survive are more engaging than Alex's journey. Alex is a dynamic character and certainly changes throughout the novel, and teens will appreciate this and the romance between the two central figures. Readers who are fascinated by natural disaster stories and dystopian fiction will enjoy this one. A sequel is scheduled for next year. Reviewer: Jeff Mann
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Alex, 15, is separated from his family when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts. The eruption leaves his world in confusion, with no infrastructure and drifts of ash everywhere. He decides that he must leave his home in Iowa to seek out his family, who were traveling toward Pennsylvania when the explosion occurred. Alex uses his Tae kwon do skills to keep himself safe as he skis over the ash. Food is in short supply for everyone. Eventually he is taken in by Mrs. Edmunds and her daughter, Darla. When tragedy strikes, Alex and Darla must set out on their own to find safety and food. Not surprisingly, along the way, a romantic attraction develops between them. Ultimately, they must figure out how to survive in a refugee camp. The conclusion is satisfying, but unresolved enough to indicate the beginning of what appears to be a planned trilogy. The tough self-sufficiency of the two lead characters (Alex's Tae kwon do coupled with Darla's automotive prowess) adds to their appeal. The romance develops believably over the course of the book. Tautly paced and well researched, this is a high-action read-alike for fans of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It (Harcourt, 2006).—Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH
"The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones, and refrigerators dissolved into this post-Friday world of ash, darkness, and hunger."
Left home alone for a weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while his family visits relatives in Warren, Ill., 15-year-old Alex Halprin ends up fighting for survival trying to get to them through an America ravaged by the sudden eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone Park. Alex is characterized by the decisions he makes when confronted with moral dilemmas—dilemmas that have no straightforward, correct answers—resulting in a realistically thoughtful protagonist dealing with complex and horrifying situations. Before he's even left his hometown, Alex encounters looting and other behaviors born from realization of just how finite resources are in emergencies. Traveling to Warren, he's even more vulnerable, both to the elements and to the mercies of the people he encounters. Among the best people that Alex encounters are a girl named Darla and her mother, Mrs. Edmunds, both self-sufficient farmers. But any relief is temporary—threats both environmental and human are ever present. While the pain and suffering Alex witnesses and experiences is visceral, so are the moments of hope and glimpses of human goodness.
In this chilling debut, Mullin seamlessly weaves meticulous details about science, geography, agriculture and slaughter into his prose, creating a fully immersive and internally consistent world scarily close to reality. (author's note)(Speculative fiction. 14 & up)