Published by Allen & Unwin on August 1, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
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What happens when the lights go off after what might truly be an end-of-the-world event? How do you stay alive? Who do you trust? How much do you have to sacrifice?
'After the Lights Go Out is a terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.' - Fleur Ferris
Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year's worth of water. Each of the girls has a 'bug out bag', packed with water purification tablets, protein bars, paracord bracelets and epipens for Pru's anaphylaxis.
One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers' house, and in the town. No one knows why. All communication is cut. It doesn't take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.
After the Lights Go Out is a gripping survivalist story with an Australian setting, reminiscent of Tomorrow When the War Began or The Sky So Heavy. This one has an added twist of the father being a survivalist who has taken extreme measures into protecting his family and training them in the art of surviving in the wilderness on their own.
The first few chapters of the novel quickly introduce us to these exteneous circumstances, as we learn about Pru’s family and her dad, who makes his three teenage daughters train for the end-of-the-world by utilising his secret underground bunker. I found this part of the novel to be quite hard to believe, even though I’ve since learnt that preppers and survivalists actually do exist. Family first was always his motto, something that is also drilled into his three teenage girls.
Not gonna lie, the father came across as a quack a few times and it was hard to understand his thinking, but I liked how Pru started questioning what he had taught them – as useful as it was. In fact, Pru is one of those smart teenagers who questions everything that is told to her, and that’s what I liked about her – as she balances her useful survival skills with empathy for the townspeople. Unfortunately, her twin sisters Blythe and Grace go along with whatever they were taught by their father, even though he’s nowhere to be found. They also let themselves be manipulated and romance get in the way of common sense, and it was easy to see them fall prey to their circumstances, especially in Pru’s eyes.
We also meet Mateo, a newcomer to the town, who is also a Puerto Rican visiting Australia. He is outspoken and not afraid to share his many opinions about Australians and what he likes and dislikes. His character did grate on me a little and I wasn’t completely sold on the romance, but I appreciated the important social commentary – from racism, US citizenship, Australian’s way of life, virginity being a male social construct and sex positivity. It was refreshing to see these things being addressed in a novel – and also a teenage male character. Being darker skinned, Mateo and his mother experiences quite a bit of racism in this outback Australian town, even though as a nurse, she’s one of the most useful people in the whole town.
We’re not the heroes of this action movie; nobody cares about us, stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s up to us to escape, instead of waiting to be rescued.
As the town Jubilee is also set in the remote mining community, it was great to hear more from Violet who is Aboriginal. I loved hearing about some of their customs, the use of their language and the way she honoured the land that they lived on. Even when the electricity goes out with a suspected EMP shutting down civilization as they know it, some of the townspeople were still set in their ways of racism and white privilege which was frustrating to see.
I’ve read a lot of novels about the apocalypse, but After the Lights Go Out contained a lot more complexity than your usual descent into chaos. It was fascinating seeing morality at play, from the values of a small community banding together to Pru and her sisters who have been taught to look after themselves first and foremost. The end result is a gripping story when disaster strikes with a girl grappling with questions of morality and human nature.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending me this book for review!
Trigger warnings: animal cruelty
After the Lights Go Out is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99 or from The Book Depository.
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