by Mike Mullen
With all of the apocalyptic-style novels hitting the market, a writer has to find some way to stand apart to be a success. Part survival story, part coming-of-age novel, Mullen manages to weave a story that does just that. Unlike other stories that rely on asteroids, global warming, or nuclear disasters to create a hostile world, historical evidence of past super-volcanic eruptions is the inspiration for this conflict. The story is told by Alex, the protagonist, who awakens to find his home burning after it is struck with a rock ejected from a far-away super-volcano. Unsure what to do in the absence of his parents, Alex embarks on a treacherous quest to find them. Strong characters abound in this novel, from cannibalistic, felonious villains, to Darla, a street-smart and physically strong farm girl who is impossible to resist. Cliffhanging action and a satisfying conclusion leave the book open for a second installment, although honestly this book is better as a stand alone. The only weaknesses in the novel are the "fringe" conflicts that seem to be tossed in for good measure--for instance the gay couple that lives next door to Alex, and the desire that Alex has to lose his virginity while remaining safe and responsible. Frankly, although timely issues today, in this novel they seem seem forced. Despite this, readers will be on the edge of their seats breathless while reading this novel. Kudos to Mullen for mixing up what is threatening to become a tired trend.