February 19, 2015


by Mike Mullin

The volcano that underlies Yellowstone erupts massively, covering much of the continent in volcanic ash and triggering a long winter. Alex Halprin, a sullen fifteen-year-old, is alone at home when the world ends and his parents’ house collapses around him. He immediately resolves to walk from his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to meet his family, who are vacationing near Galena, Illinois.

Along the way, he becomes very good at cross-country skiing and his Tae Kwon Do turns out to be very useful. Also, he meets a girl. They have adventures. Eventually, they get swept into a Japanese prisoner-of-war movie FEMA concentration camp which, when you come right down to it, is a right-wing fever dream in which civil society has already broken down.

There’s a good chase scene in a bulldozer, though its impact might be greater if this 2010 chase in a bulldozer weren’t so close to the 1993 chase in an excavator in John Marsden’s Tomorrow When The War Began.

Yet there’s a lot to like here. The opening plays wonderful mind games with current YA genre conventions; we’re dozens of pages into the story before we realize that Alex isn’t a girl, we meet an older couple who are completely conventional and familiar and we only belatedly realize they're both men. There’s a decent sense of place and a quiet affirmation of the values of the rural Midwest as they are, not as fundie politicians pretend them to be. Even here, there’s a sense of the City As Abode Of Evil which is old but which also rings false; the farm may look askance at the Emerald City, but we all know that’s where we’re headed.