Trapped in a superstore by a series of escalating disasters, including a monster hailstorm and terrifying chemical weapons spill, brothers Dean and Alex learned how to survive and worked together with twelve other kids to build a refuge from the chaos. But then strangers appeared, destroying their fragile peace, and bringing both fresh disaster and a glimmer of hope.
Knowing that the chemical weapons saturating the air outside will turn him into a bloodthirsty rage monster, Dean decides to stay in the safety of the store with Astrid and some of the younger kids. But their sanctuary has already been breached once. . . .
Meanwhile, Alex, determined to find their parents, heads out into the darkness and devastation with Niko and some others in a recently repaired school bus. If they can get to Denver International Airport, they might be evacuated to safety. But the outside world is even worse than they expected.
The synopsis caught my attention and propelled me through the first couple of chapters of this book. The author, Emmy Laybourne in her debut novel, managed to build an intricate plot with layer upon layer of natural and manmade disasters that leave the small town of Monument, Colorado, utterly devastated.
The events take place in the not so distant future as a busload of students are on their way to school. Fourteen of the kids survive when their bus driver, taking a page out of the zombie apocalypse survival guide, goes to the nearest superstore and unloads the Monument 14 where they have access to drinking water, food, clothing, and shelter.
The story unfolds as the refugees, ranging from preteen up through seniors in high school, struggle with survival, pecking order, and rampant fear as they attempt to find out the fate of their families and loved ones with little to no access to information from the outside world. This is not Lord of the Flies, but there is enough conflict that the story moves and keeps the reader engaged.
The plot mostly works. Some of it is a little too far fetched, but then so are a lot of Hollywood disaster movies that still make millions of dollars. Sometimes you have to take things a few steps beyond plausible to get a story really ripping. And the plot does move at a pretty good pace for the most part, but I did find it stalling in a few points.
The characters are varied, layered, and real, providing a good cross-section of student bodies everywhere. Readers will find someone to connect with, from Jake the jock, to Astrid the pretty popular girl, to our lovable nerd and protagonist, Dean. Ms. Labourne does an excellent job of capturing the voice of a teenage boy who never comes off sounding like an adult or a female, and we find ourselves rooting for him and his unrequited love for Astrid and we can identify with the sense of responsibility he feels for his younger brother, Alex.
The tension is well done, the dialogue natural, and the relationships are realistic. I think I would have liked a little more action and a little more, something, I don’t know what, to take it to the next level for me. Still a solid four out of five stars.