Monday, February 11, 2013

Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin

My 2 cents:

I'm not a fan of horror movies or gore. I skip past the newspaper articles with headlines screaming atrocities. So you will understand when I say I did not enjoy reading Mike Mullin's newest YA novel, Ashen Winter.

Ashen Winter is the second book of the Ashfall trilogy. Ashfall is the story of Alex Halprin, an almost-16-year-old boy living in Cedar Falls, Iowa whose life is disrupted and forever changed by the eruption of a supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park. Meant to be home alone for the weekend, while his sister and parents visit family in nearby Warren, Illinois, Alex finds himself fighting for survival in a desperate search to find his family. Along the way, Alex meets Darla, befriends her, and together the determined duo fight murderers, hunger, thirst, cold, ash, darkness, bandits, injuries, grief and more, as they band together to reach Illinois. Well-written, Mullin's riveting, debut novel garnered all kinds of awards, including: NPR's Top 5 YA Novels for 2011, Best Teen Books (Kirkus Reviews 2011), and Best Books for Children (ABC 2011).

So I picked up the sequel (published in 2012) with high expectations. I was disappointed. I'm not saying it couldn't happen the way Mullin lays it out in his novel. I'm saying teens who read it may fear a super-volcanic eruption, the same way kids growing up in the 60's lived in terror of a nuclear attack.

Ashen Winter picks up with Alex and Darla setting out from Warren, where life is harsh, but relatively safe, trekking back to Iowa to find Alex's mother and father, and, hopefully, bring them home to Alex's uncle's farm.

The rescue mission starts out badly and rapidly gets worse. Darla is injured and taken captive. Alex meets up with criminal gangs, cannibals, dishonest government guards, too many guns to count, slave traders; and always, there are the freezing temperatures of an ashen winter, and lack of food and medical care. As I said, I'm no fan of gore and horror, but it was all too much for me. Worse, I ended up with this question: is there anything the average citizen can even do to prepare for a possible super-volcanic eruption, like Yellowstone Park? That is, besides learn martial arts, stock up on guns, ammunition, food and water, and especially canned greens and fruit. (The town of Warren faces a scurvy epidemic from a lack of Vitamin C). Thus, Alex learns that kale, in the new volcanic-winter-world, is like gold. 

Sunrise, the final book in Mullin's trilogy, is due out later this year. I sure hope the title is a harbinger of good things to come. For Alex. For Darla. And for all their readers. 

Length: 567 pages

Worth Your Time? This book is classified Young Adult Literature, but I'm wondering if it should be categorized as Adult Fiction for the violence and adult themes. I think I'll head on down to Wal-Mart now, and buy a case of Vitamin C. 

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