Kathrina's Reviews > Ashfall

Ashfall by Mike Mullin
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Jun 13, 11

bookshelves: books-i-read-with-my-kids, horror-thriller, iowa
Read from May 31 to June 13, 2011

What a thrill ride! I get a little giddy whenever a book takes me to Iowa (my adopted state), and this happens more than you'd think, given the amazing amount of writerly talent that streams through the Iowa Writers Workshop and this Most Literate Town in America -- Hey, authors, write what you know! It's even better when it helps me see Iowa through a different lens. Well, this was a very different, ash-distorted lens, and it would have been just as compelling to me set anywhere in the country. Mullen is extremely skilled at creating and maintaining momentum from page to page, and his characters are honest, complex, and endearing. Not only was I fascinated by the natural disaster story, I was also drawn into the characters, whose emotional developments were as integral to the plot as their fight for survival.
My only criticism is our narrator, Alex, has an unbelievably broad vocabulary for a 15-year-old, especially in architectural terms. It bothered me at first, and I think it was Mullen's way of being precise in his descriptions, but after I became acquainted with Alex's character, it became less of a problem. Maybe I just forgave him that, since he was developing in so many other ways that were quite authentic.
All-in-all, a great read that will motivate the most reluctant readers and spur the imaginations of the best. I love that Mullen took great pains in being as scientifically accurate as possible, creating a plausible disaster and it's aftermath. He makes some insightful indirect comments on the human character -- our inability to prepare for an overwhelming crisis, the desire to survive vs. the desire to help -- and Mullen never PG's his writing for his younger audience; dead people are discovered from time to time, anarchic characters perform reprehensible acts against our own. The world, even pre-Ashfall, is not a pretty place, but Mullen's characters help us understand it's worth the work to survive, despite the pain and ugliness. He even, with very little fanfair, includes some unconventional family groups, such as his gay neighbors who help Alex survive the first few nights of the disaster. They didn't have to be gay, but they are, and Mullen fits it in seamlessly. How refreshing to read about gay characters that aren't in books about being gay! Well done, Mike.
It's my 12-year-old's turn with this book now, and then I'll be passing it to my local library's teen librarian. There's going to be a lot of buzz about this book come October around here, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment. A trilogy, you say?! Bring it.

(An ARC of Ashfall was generously provided to me by the author.)
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