Plot Summary (From Amazon):
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.
Like Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Ashfall deals with an intensely plausible catastrophic event that changes the way the world exists as we know it. In this case, the eruption of the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone (which, YES, does exist and YES has erupted before) causes mass destruction and throws the United States into chaos.
Alex is a typical teenager, testing his limits in every way possible and eschewing family trips in favor of spending days playing World of Warcraft. When his home and town are decimated by the explosion of the volcano, he realizes that nothing is more important than being with his family, no matter what the cost.
His journey to get there brings him in contact with both the bad and good in humanity in startling ways.
Mike Mullin has fascinating answers to whether the “system” we have in place in the case of a cataclysmic event would really serve us, or if humanity itself is too flawed to survive. In a notable quote, Alex remarks, “The volcano had taken our homes, our food, our automobiles and our airplanes, but it hadn’t taken our humanity. No, we’d given that up on our own.” (p. 344)
Part of what makes this story so effective is how believable it is, from the plausibility of an unexpected volcanic explosion to the survival tactics of some of the people that Alex comes across during his time on the road. He meets all types, from the quietly generous to the terrifying, and each character feels completely authentic.
Alex’s evolution over the course of the story, from a sulky teenager to a self-reliant young man is fascinating. His background in taekwondo doesn’t hurt, of course, but his survival instincts are dead on and he’s the type of character you’d definitely want on your side in a pinch.
Likewise, Darla is a total fireball. What Alex lacks in certain areas, she more than makes up for in her mechanical knowledge and moxie. In spite of both of them being violently thrown into adulthood, these two are a compelling team and I couldn’t wait to see how they were going to meet their next challenge. From violent gangs, to personal tragedy, to a dismal “aid camp,” I spent the whole book rooting for them to come out on top. Even though this is the first book in a series(?), the ending is satisfying and the story contained.
Four out of Five pieces of corn pone.