Fallout by Todd Strasser
Published: September 10th 2013 by Candlewick Press
Format/Source: e-ARC from Netgalley
Genre: Young Adult Apocalyptic
In the summer of 1962, the possibility of nuclear war is all anyone talks about. But Scott’s dad is the only one in the neighborhood who actually prepares for the worst. As the neighbors scoff, he builds a bomb shelter to hold his family and stocks it with just enough supplies to keep the four of them alive for two critical weeks. In the middle of the night in late October, when the unthinkable happens, those same neighbors force their way into the shelter before Scott’s dad can shut the door. With not enough room, not enough food, and not enough air, life inside the shelter is filthy, physically draining, and emotionally fraught. But even worse is the question of what will — and won’t — remain when the door is opened again. Internationally best-selling author Todd Strasser has written his most impressive and personal novel to date, ruthlessly yet sensitively exploring the terrifying what-ifs of one of the most explosive moments in human history.
So I’m incredibly confused. Why are people labeling this as middle grade?! While Fallout is told from the perspective of an eleven year old, I really don’t know if this is on the same level of some of the other clearly marked middle grade books. And this is definitely not dystopian. This is apocalyptic, an alternate history if the Cuban Missile Crisis had not been averted and hydrogen bombs had been deployed.
The story begins with the kids being woken up and rushed to the family’s bomb shelter. But they are the only house in the neighborhood with one and it wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret so as the alarms blare, the neighbors try to force their way into the shelter. Told in alternating chapters, from the group slowly starving in the shelter and the events leading up to that event in the pre-bomb days, it is a riveting tale that keeps you engaged no matter how depressing it becomes.
Because that’s just it. It’s not a happy read. It’s a good read, an excellent one. It raises some important questions about war, about survival, and families. And while the ending is a little bit hopeful, it is not a happy read. It is a very adult book that young adults could enjoy.
I really enjoyed how this wasn’t even a post-apocalyptic novel. It takes place purely in the days leading up to and during the apocalypse. It was very refreshing to read this different kind of circumstance. The ending does not offer complete closure though it is was exactly the kind of ending I love, where things are a little open-ended but very poetic and poignant.
And as a bonus, the author’s note with his own personal connection to the story was a great final touch. It certainly makes you grateful that at least that era of mutually assured destruction has passed.