It’s been noted by my blog partners that I like to read the scary books. This is a true statement. There is something about being terrified by the written word that I can handle much better than I can visually. It’s one of my quirks. Last year’s most scary read for me was Ashes, this year it’s Ashfall. Both terrified me because, you guys, they could really happen and if they did, it would be really, really bad.

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 Yellowstone 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.

-description from author’s website

Alex’s world is changed forever in an instant by the eruption and his quest for survival begins. I thought Mr. Mullin did a great job of creating a fifteen-year-old boy from Iowa’s voice. Alex is just a kid. He’s kinda geeky. He does Taekwando. His younger sister bugs him, he’s not that thrilled with his mom or his dad. He’s normal, but what he sets out to do is extraordinary.

Ashfall is written in first-person narrative, so when “the event” takes place, we as the reader know what Alex knows and it is scary and confusing. Very little is known about what is going on outside the immediate vicinity, and the devastation surrounding him is catastrophic. Beyond the physical damage that occurs, it’s really the rapid devolution of human beings that is truly terrifying.

The dangers Alex faces are many: lack of food and water, exposure, the inhalation of ash, to name a few, but his biggest threat is other people. Mullin has created a stark setting and takes his protagonist on a journey that left me questioning the fragile balance of humanity in which we as a species cling precariously to.

I’m not a scientist, nor is Mullin, but he did a lot of research for this book and because of that he was able to create a frightening world that has left me anxiety-ridden for days. The extreme changes to the physical world were such an unbending obstacle that I found myself wondering if Alex was just going to lie down in a pile of ash and die. I wouldn’t have blamed him, but that wouldn’t have been much of a story, so Alex does not give up. Ever.

I love this kid. The transformation of him leaving boyhood and becoming a man was such a great read. It does take some time once Alex sets off to find his family to where he’s not the only character in the story, and reading up until then was a bit slow. That isn’t a knock on the storytelling ability of Mr. Mullin as it was very necessary for Alex’s growth and for the reader to see how horrifying an event the eruption truly was. Everything changes completely. Once Alex “finds” Darla, the story really took off for me and for Alex. Darla is a fantastic character. She’s smart and self-reliant and vulnerable in all the ways Alex isn’t. I loved the juxtaposition of these two.

I won’t lie to you, Ashfall is a book that caused me great anxiety, (seriously, I’ve made most of the people I know discuss what we are going to do when the supervolcano erupts. My husband isn’t with me yet on my idea to move to the Smoky Mountains and buy a farm to live off the land, but I will continue to work on him.) but one that I whole-heartedly recommend. What Alex and Darla experience is nothing short of hell. You’re eager to read, aren’t you? Trust me, you want to. It’s a post-apocalyptic nightmare to be sure, but it’s also a haunting story about the power of love, in all its forms.

-reviewed via electronic version from Netgalley

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