Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.
Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.
Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter. When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.
Thoughts: It’s not easy to do post-apocalyptic settings as well as some people think. Coming up with a reason why the world’s in chaos is the simple part. Figuring out all the tiny ramifications of how it would affect people is difficult, and it’s so easy to misstep, to make errors that you don’t even know are errors.
And I have this to say about Ashfall: I found no errors. It’s incredibly obvious that Mullin did his homework when it comes to his story of the aftermath of a supervolcanic eruption in the United States. I don’t just mean the way people are bound to panic, to hurt others, to act stupid and selfish and for society to fall apart on itself. I’m referring to the way Mullin obviously consulted wilderness survival guides and picked up details about the actual effects of hypothermia on humans, or the abilities of people who’ve been on starvation diets for weeks. The little details were all there, and while they may not all have been strictly necessary, they all come together to add depth and richness to the story that set it apart from many other post-apocalyptic books I’ve read in the past.
The story centres around Alex, whose parents and sister left him at home while they went to visit family in another state. In their absense, the volcano at Yellowstone erupts, causing massive and widespread effects across the United States. Extreme changes in weather patterns, crop devastation, water supplies sinking, and people panicking everywhere. Through this, Alex feels the need to be reunited with his family, and sets out into the newly chaotic wild world around him, hoping to get to where they were going so they could all be together again.
Along the way, in the tradition of many wanderers, he meets many people, from the kindly farm couple who give him food and shelter, to the escaped convict who tries to kill him. He also meets Darla, whom he begins a relationship with in what I thought was a very realistic fashion given the circumstances. Love didn’t blind them to the harshness of life, it didn’t consume their every waking thought, they didn’t spend entire chapters angsting over it, but their affection ran deep and that showed quite well. They’re a couple I can really get invested in because their couple-hood doesn’t dominate every aspect of their lives.
In many ways, this is not an easy book to read. There’s violent and bloody death, both in self-defense and psychopathic rage. People die of exposure and starvation. Women get raped. Girls in the refugee camp prostitute themselves to soldiers for extra food.
But the uncomfortable aspects of the story are what go a long way to making it all so realistic, and for that, I can commend Mullin for his superb execution of a tale of the darker side of humanity in chaos. He peppers that ugly darkness with a generous helping of hope and optimism, of Alex’s unfailing determination to keep going on to reunite with his family, of love that can blossom in the hardest of circumstances. Mullin has shown his colours as a fantastic storyteller, and as a book for older teens, this one leaves my hands very highly recommended.
(Provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley)