One of the great things about reading is learning something new. I had never heard of supervolcanos until I read Mike Mullin’s YA dystopian novel Ashfall. The idea that there have been such powerful volcano eruptions in history that the impact was felt almost a thousand miles away is a bit, unsettling, though interesting from a scientific perspective.
Although the event that caused this post-apocalyptic world wasn’t man-made like many other dystopian books, it still explores the questionable actions of civilization. The main character, Alex, is the typical teen at the beginning of the story. He chooses to stay behind while the rest of his family leaves to visit an uncle a couple hundred miles away. He is soon to regret his desire to get away from his family when a supervolcano erupts and leaves the world an ashen nightmare. When his house burns to the ground he takes refuge with neighbors until man’s propensity for violence causes him to flee and set out on a journey to reunite with his family. Along the way he experiences the best and worst of mankind as well as the intensity of first love when he happens upon Darla, a farm girl who stronger and better at machinery than most men, and who ends up accompanying him on his nightmarish journey. The pair faces starvation, blizzards, desperate people and refugee camps among many trials.
The book has McGyver elements to it as Alex and Darla often come up with inventive ways to survive on the road that impressed me as I wonder how many people would be able to do the same. It’s funny that one of the most overused expressions in the modern world is, ‘think outside the box’, when most people don’t, but these young teens do. They also must face what they must do to survive while still holding onto their humanity. While there is plenty of action and adventure in the book, I think it’s the references to this that make the book so interesting. I also liked its realism. The situations that happen are what I would imagine would occur if such an eruption took place. The interaction and dialogue between Alex and Darla also felt real and is one of the book’s strengths.
I kind of liked the simplicity of this book. There wasn’t a lot of elaborate world building such as in books like The Maze Runner, Uglies and Partials, but not every YA dystopia book has to have that to be a success. In fact, by taking our current modern world and observing the impact an event has in the immediate aftermath forces the author to delve deeper into the characters themselves and how they must quickly evolve to go from a world of fast food and World of War Craft games to one where starvation and real life fighting takes over. If done well, such as in Ashfall, this can be a plus as readers can more easily relate to characters who had lives just like them before disaster struck.
What about you? Do you prefer dystopian novels with more elaborate world building or books like Ashfall that focus on the immediate effects of an apocalyptic event?