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Review: Ashfall (Mullin)

AUTHOR: Mike Mullin
SERIES: Ashfall, book 1
PUBLISHER: Tanglewood Press  
PUBLICATION DATE: October 11, 2011 
ISBN:  9781933718552  
PAGES: 466
SOURCE: NetGalley
GENRE: Survival, Apocalypse
RECOMMENDED FOR: HS, upper MS
OVERALL RATING: Highly Recommended

SUMMARY: In post-apocalyptic Iowa following a super-caldera volcanic eruption at Yellowstone, teens Alex and Darla attempt to survive long enough to find Alex’s family.

WHAT I LIKED: 
Love the characters! For most of the story, Ashfall has only two major characters, and Mullin takes his time developing both as likeable and believably-flawed. I love how Alex is genuinely noble but never seems to realize it. Even though Alex admits to fighting too much with his mother, he misses her and his family dearly. The trek is treacherous and will take forever, but it never occurs to Alex to stop looking for his family, even while facing insurmountable odds. He badly wants to help people along the way, and he takes it hard when his attempts are unsuccessful. He cares so much for Darla that when he says he’d die for her, you can believe it.

Darla, whom Alex meets along the way, is strong and smart, despite her admitted struggles in school. I love seeing a female character who is a genius with machines! Like Alex, Darla isn’t perfect–she curses too much, can be rude, and is quite stubborn at times–but that just makes her more real. Darla and Alex make a great team; I doubt they could have lasted very long without each other. While not always easy, their relationship is convincing and sweet.

Love the suspense! I kept asking myself, “How on earth are they going to get out of this?” The suspense kept me turning pages into the wee hours. Some parts are so heart-wrenching, I gasped out loud and put my hand over my mouth. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the book, working over in my mind if so-and-so were conceivable, how they would ever get out of this, and what could possibly happen next.

I loved reading the Author’s Note at the end, where Mullin describes his research into historic volcanic eruptions and how Yellowstone is, in fact, a colossal volcano that has erupted three times before, the last being 640,000 years ago (457). Like Pfeffer’s The Dead and the Gone, Ashfall depicts an event so believably catastrophic, it makes me want to stock up on my bottled water and canned goods. And skis.
  
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:  
There really isn’t much I disliked about this book; I truly devoured it from start to finish. If I had to say one thing I’d change, it would be in the lack of physical description of Darla and Alex. While Mullin developed Alex and Darla’s characters very well, I don’t even know what color hair or eyes either has, whether they are tall or short, chunky or skinny, what their facial features are like.

CONTENT:

  • Language: mild–a few GDs
  • Sexuality: medium–a rape (not explicitly described); some appreciation of female body parts; mild description of male body parts; kissing; some talk of prostitution (which never occurs in the context of the story); very off-the-page intercourse
  • Violence: high–several bloody murders; cannibalism (one lady tells a particularly disturbing story of cannibalism); lots and lots of death
  • Drugs/Alcohol: none

SEQUEL: Ashen Winter, scheduled for 2012

READALIKES: The Dead and the Gone series (Pfeffer); Ashes (Bick), The Maze Runner (Dashner)

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY (GRADES 6-8): Ashfall is a must for high school libraries. We don’t have it (not out yet), but I plan to purchase it for my high school collection. Middle school librarians should read it first to make an informed decision. I personally think many middle school readers will be fine with it, but some are not ready for the violence, rape scene, and cannibalism. This is why I plan to shelve Ashfall in the high school section of my middle school library.

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