Philbrick, Rodman. The Big Dark
5 January 2016, Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
The residents of Harmony, New Hampshire are watching particularly vivid Northern Lights on New Year's Eve when all of the power suddenly goes out. Nothing works; no batteries, no back up generators, no cars, no flashlights. At first, people assume that the power will come back on, but it is very quickly apparent that this will not happen. Local survival enthusiast Bragg tries to buy all of the canned tuna and peanut butter at the local grocery with gold coins and isn't happy when the proprietor turns him down. Part time security office and school janitor Kingman realizes that people need some sort of direction and sense of optimism, and sets up help for the elderly and infirm. Bragg doesn't like that either, and eventually ends up setting fire to the grocery store and stealing firewood from the common stack. This puts Charlie in a bad position-- he and his mother have been trying to help Kingman, but his mother's medication for diabetes is running out, and since the pharmacy was burned down, he is worried about what will happen. He borrows skies and sets off through the terrible snow to Concord. He has some help along the way, but when he gets to the city, things are bad there. He eventually gets the medication, but when he returns home, things are even worse.
Strengths: This is the best sort of dystopian tale-- long after more science fiction tales like The Hunger Games have fallen out of favor, basic survival tales will still be requested, and this fits into both categories. For readers who enjoyed The Rule of Three, there is the inexplicable power outage and community gathering, and for readers of books like Hatchet there is a snowy trek and plenty of survival skills. The story moved along at a nice brisk clip and the characters were appealing. One of Philbrick's best books.
Weaknesses: The ending is a bit deus ex machina, and Bragg was over the top. I could have done without his racist rants; they were uncomfortable to read, but perhaps that was the point.
What I really think: Definitely putting this on my order list, and think that this will do well in paperback at Scholastic book fairs.