Monday, October 10, 2011

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

One weekend, Alex decides to stay home while his mom, dad and sister travel to Warren, Illinois to visit his aunt and uncle.  That afternoon, everything changes.  A giant volcano erupts in Yellowstone National Park, and the consequences stretch across the entire United States.  Heavy ash falls, blotting out the sun and causing dramatic temperature changes.  Alex is determined to journey to Warren and reunite with his family.  On an old pair of his father's cross country skies, Alex starts out into a world that has totally changed.

This reminded me a lot of Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.   In both cases, a serious natural disaster occurs that changes everything, and then the rest of the book is about how every day becomes a struggle just to survive.  Personally I liked Life As We Knew It better.  For most of Ashfall, Alex is traveling, trying to get to his family.  He encounters various problems on the road, many of them being the basic how to find food and water and travel without exhausting himself.  Life As We Knew It really got in to how the family lived their day to day life.  What they had to do every single day to survive and plan and hope that things would get better.  There were no big adventures, which is why I can see, actually, some people enjoying Ashfall more.  There's more adventure.

 Life As We Knew It is told from a girls' point of view and Ashfall is a boy's point of view, so it has boy appeal in that sense.  There's also the fact that before the volcano, Alex studied tae kwon do and was quite good at it.  This comes in very helpful on the road, as Alex has to defend himself multiple times.

I think this book did a good job or showing both the good and bad.  Alex encounters some towns where the people had come together to work and share food and protect each other.  He also encounters people who are taking advantage of the situation and are killing, and raping and stealing.  Alex and the girl he ends up traveling with, Darla, often have to deal with the moral dilemma of "how can I get enough for myself if I keep helping others?  What kind of person am I if I don't help others in need?"  And it's a difficult question.

After traveling for a long time, Alex and Darla finally find a government run refugee camp.  They think they've finally found help, but things are even worse in the camp then on the road.  There's hardly any shelter, and food is one cup of rice a day, so everyone is slowly starving.  While the soldiers who run the camp were certainly portrayed as bad guys, it was also explained that there just wasn't enough food, and no one knew how to handle this kind of disaster.

This is the first in a series, and, similar to Life As We Knew It, I'm sure we'll see Alex and his family continuing to find ways to survive and make life worth living.

Ashfall comes out October 14.

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