There was a point in the 90s where I became--as a teen--very aware of the threat of nuclear war. It bothered me. It depressed me. At any moment there could be a brilliant flash of light and BAM! I'm a bunch of dust in the wind. What The Day After* did for me as a teen Ashfall has done for me as a twentysomething.
It has made me completely paranoid about supervolcanoes.
Alex is left at home by his parents one weekend. He doesn't have to fight off burglars ala Home Alone style--well, actually he does at one point but with Kung Fu--but that's when the supervolcano in Yellowstone erupts. Causing chaos and destruction across America. Alex sets off to find his parents in another state. Along the way he meets up with Darla and the two go on an adventure that is mildly depressing.
I use the term mildly depressing because HOLY FUCK this book is MILDLY DEPRESSING. You think your people in The Hunger Games are starving? Think again. You think your bad guys in The Knife of Never Letting Go are bad? Think again. You think your cutesy little love stories from Sarah Dessen novels are complicated? Think again.
The trend that I've noticed recently in Young Adult literature is a move towards more darkness--even without a cloud of ash this book would be dark. There are things in here that belong in Cormac McCarthy's The Road.** There are things in here that are pulled straight from infuriating headlines of a hurricane incident circa 2006. There's also death, death, more death, rape, death rape, dying children, and exploding eyeballs.
I'm not aware that Mike Mullin intended for his books' message to be: no one gives a frak about you, you have to take care of yourself and your own, but that's what I got. Also, don't trust the government, fall in love when you can, and make sure you know how to gut a pig. I think that's about right.
Full Disclosure: I read this on my Kindle.
*I still have a fear of this scenario.
**I did not like The Road. Too dark. Ashfall? Just right.
Note: Alex does know kung-fu. There are parts where it's really cool, but other times hokey. I approve.
Extra note: I spent an entire weekend watching supervolcano documentaries on Netflix after reading this book.