AUTHOR: Mike Mullin
SERIES: Ashfall, book 2
PUBLICATION DATE: October 14, 2012
GENRE: science fiction, post-apocalyptic
GIVE IT TO: HS, possibly upper-middle (see content notes below)
SUMMARY: It’s been several months since the Yellowstone supercaldera erupted, and it’s been winter ever since. Life for survivors is plagued with starvation, sickness, and constant cold. Months after teen survivors Alex and Darla finally made it to Alex’s uncle’s house, they set out into the frigid countryside to find Alex’s parents, who left months ago and never returned.
REVIEW: I’ve been told more than once that Ashen Winter is even better than Ashfall, and I have to disagree with that. I loved Ashfall so much that I included it on my “Best of 2011” list when I presented at Region XI Service Center in September 2011. And while I didn’t love this one nearly as much, I did like it enough to finish nearly 600 pages in only four days (that’s fast for me considering I read between working full-time and going to my kidlet’s baseball games/practice).
Once again, I loved Alex and Darla together. Both are tough survivors who complement each other well and absolutely refuse accept defeat. As in Ashfall, there are heartbreaking moments, horrifying acts of desperation, and incredible (if unbelievable) acts of strength, courage, and humanity. Mullin keeps the nonstop action intense with nail-biting sequences in nearly every chapter. Despite a few stumbles, readers who enjoyed Ashfall will enjoy Ashen Winter. Reading Ashfall first is essential to fully understanding Darla and Alex’s relationship; without that foundation, readers will not fully comprehend Alex’s devotion to Darla and his motives for doing what he does.
When I read Ashfall, I found very little that I disliked. Ashen Winter, while action-packed, lacks some of the magic of its predecessor. For example, I don’t remember the obvious “hooks” at the end of each Ashfall chapter; if they were there, I didn’t notice them. But in Ashen Winter, I noticed them every single time. It reminds me of Jerry Spinelli’s Crash, which I used years ago to teach my seventh graders about making the reader want to continue to the next chapter. Hooks at the end of EVERY CHAPTER are fine in a novel for less sophisticated middle grade readers (who might abandon a book the second it gets boring), but the Ashfall books do not fall into that category. I promise, in this case, readers will continue on to the next chapter without those one-sentence hooks.
I also found myself saying “Yeah, right” a lot more in Ashen Winter. How many times can Alex and Darla possibly escape cannibalism, rape, imprisonment, serious injury, frostbite, illness, and death? Truly, Alex defies all odds. Like a superhero, Alex survives being dragged underneath a truck and riding on top of a truck at high speeds. Guns trained at his head always miss and infection stays away even though he ingests only a fraction of his antibiotics. At one point (the truck-dragging), I thought for sure his leg was broken, but a few pages later, he was walking on it. And while others stay imprisoned and starving in the FEMA camps for months, Alex finds a way to get himself and his friends out unharmed. Twice. Seriously, HOW is he still alive and whole?
THE BOTTOM LINE: While I do have my issues with Ashen Winter, I enjoyed it for the most part. Action-packed with plenty of heart-stopping moments, readers who enjoyed Ashfall won’t be disappointed. I am anxiously awaiting the third installment and have no doubt I will read (and review) it as soon as it is available.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have Ashfall in our “high school collection” (no parent permission required but not on the general shelves either), so I’ll be purchasing Ashen Winter to go along with it.
READALIKES: The Dead and the Gone (Pfeffer); After the Snow (Crockett)
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 4/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Engrossing: 4/5
- Writing: 3/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 4/5
- Language: mild; a couple of sh** and da**
- Sexuality: medium; girls are traded as sex slaves (nothing explicit), one “off the page” intercourse scene, kissing, failed seduction attempt
- Violence: extremely high; cannibalism is frequent and discussed often (it’s a major threat for the characters); human bodies stripped of skin and hanging on hooks; frequent instances of gun violence
- Drugs/Alcohol: very mild; medical drugs (Tylenol, antibiotics)