Philbrick's THE BIG DARK a Big, Realistic Scare

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Big Dark Rodman Philbrick Scholastic Critical Blast geomagnetic shift power blackout

Perhaps the most frightening book you'll read this year is Rodman Philbrick's YA novel THE BIG DARK.

Imagine the worst power outage you can think of. Now add to this the fact that the power is just not out, but that the very basics of producing electricity have been stripped away -- no batteries, no generators, no hand-crank flashlights. Every modern mode of transportation, communication and commerce are simply gone.

This is the world young Charlie Cobb is thrown into when a night out watching the Northern Lights, exacerbated by solar flare activity into a really big show. It's during this midnight viewing that the lights in town all go out -- as well as all the truck engines and flashlights. Before evening the next day, the town is already dividing into those who are waiting for power to be restored and those who are aligning with the local survivalist and anti-government conspiracy theorist. He has guns, gold, and rations protected on his compound with his grown sons, and he's prepared to confiscate what he doesn't need in the name of the "Free State of Liberty" over which he has appointed himself ruler.

Leading the calmer populace is Reggie Kingman, the school janitor and the town's only volunteer police officer, whose duties have largely called for leading the Pledge of Allegiance at town meetings. A mild-mannered man, he nonetheless succeeds in keeping up the hopes of the town with messages from FEMA gathered through his crystal radio set. But Charlie is forced to wonder: What if he's lying?

Closer to Charlie's world is the problems his own family have to conquer. His mother keeps up high spirits, but she isn't telling Charlie's sister that she's cutting back on her diabetes medication to make it last until spring. When this catches up with her and Charlie learns the truth, he's up against a deadline to figure out how to get more medicine, if he can get more medicine, from the nearest hospital which is fifty miles away, in the dead of winter, on foot. But are the more dangerous obstacles outside of town, or festering within it?

THE BIG DARK is one of those stories that is frightful in its plausibility and scary in its accurate capture of human nature. If you want to spend a few uneasy, sleepless nights, pick up this one. But don't read it in winter during a power outage; you may just find yourself barricading the door.

5.0 / 5.0