Summary: Your mother hollers that you're going to miss the bus. She can see it coming down the street. You don't stop and hug her and tell her you love her. You don't thank her for being a good, kind, patient mother. Of course not-you launch yourself down the stairs and make a run for the corner.
Only, if it's the last time you'll ever see your mother, you sort of start to wish you'd stopped and did those things. Maybe even missed the bus.
But the bus was barreling down our street, so I ran.
Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.
In Emmy Laybourne's action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world-as they know it-apart. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)
Review: Dean is in love with Astrid. It's a pity, really, that although they ride the bus together every day, she doesn't know he exists. What he needs is some amazing, cataclysmic event that would make her see what a hero he really is. Yeah, that'd totally do it!
And then the hail starts.
Before Dean knows what's going on, their bus is being pounded mercilessly by hail, the driver is killed, the bus flips and comes to a stop by his brother's elementary school bus. All thoughts of impressing Astrid flee his mind as he struggles just to survive the onslaught. The elementary school bus driver, an amazing woman, hustles everyone out of the wreckage, into the smaller bus, and rams the bus into a superstore to get the children out of danger, and then leaves for help. The world has forever been altered by solar flares and destructive weather patterns that have hit Earth. Communication is down because the satellites were knocked out with the flares. The only information that the kids are getting is coming through an old, antiquated tube TV they find in the store. Thus begins the series.
Is your heart pounding yet? Mine was. I had to reread it to make sure I hadn't missed anything, but nope. Laybourne's style of writing is fast-paced, breathless, and immersive. We follow the fourteen children, some teenagers, some as young as five, as they try to survive until the bus driver comes back with help. I found myself fearing their safety, cheering their victories, goading on their attempt to ration their supplies, normalize their lives, and make the decisions that would provide their safety. Her voice is clear, and she doesn't apologize for making her characters act as though teenagers would act in that scenario.
That being said, the amount of sex, wanton drug and alcohol use, and lust that goes on did make me uncomfortable. I didn't feel like it was necessary to the story in every case, although it didn't feel too gratuitous.
Although this is definitely a science fiction based book, it felt very realistic. I loved the way Laybourne's characters all coped with the disaster. One, in particular, awoke from a semi-catatonic state and then threw herself into caring for the kids. She set up a school time, converted the dressing rooms into dormitories, and bustled everyone into a sense of efficiency. The characters grew. They became real in a way that I didn't expect when I picked it up, and I love being surprised by debut novels.
Rating: Four stars
For the Sensitive Reader: Sex, more sex, some peeping tom-foolery, lots of drugs and alcohol, murder (although not too graphic) and an underage attempted rape. Definitely not for your more sensitive audiences.