ASHEN WINTER by Mike Mullin


As ASHEN WINTER opens, it’s six months after volcano day. As you’ll recall, the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted in ASHFALL, and Alex set off on an arduous journey alone to his uncle’s farm in Illinois. He met (and fell in love with) Darla along the way. Now Alex and Darla get a clue that his father is still alive—and they set off back toward Iowa to find his parents. And things have gotten a lot worse this time. Think frozen wasteland filled with cannibal gangs and military contractors. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot. Sorry no spoilers!

But that brings me to one of my favorite review lines about ASHEN WINTER (from Voya): “Mullin has outdone himself with nonstop action and injury.” And they’re right. AW clocks in at nearly 600 pages, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. (And Alex is pretty battle-scarred by the end of the book.) The pace is quick, and Alex (and Darla) are continually acting and/or figuring out things. Alex grows up even more in this book as he has to make some tough choices, but his actions are grounded in his love for Darla and his desire to protect all of his family.

All of that makes AW an excellent book “boy book” that should also appeal to us girls. I don’t like putting labels on books—like “boy book” or “girl book”—but the truth is that boys do like certain things in stories. And it’s important to direct them to good books they might like in order to get them to read. Author Andy Sherrod talks about what makes a good “boy book” on his blog (and he gives presentations on the topic). Boys are more likely to like a book where the protagonist (boy or girl):

  1. Acts alone
  2. Heads “out there” (as opposed to staying home)
  3. And overcomes a physical challenge

And that’s ASHEN WINTER. Okay, Alex isn’t totally alone. He acts by himself in key parts of the book (minor spoiler), but he does have traveling companions on and off. He sets off with Darla, and he picks up two other kids along the way. All are strong characters. No damsels in distress anywhere in sight. (That makes it a good girl book, BTW.)

Before we get to the giveaway, here are a few other semi-random things I love about AW:

  • Darla is the one who can fix anything.
  • Ben is delightful—a high functioning autistic kid who is also a tactical savant.
  • Despite the odds, Alex believes in himself and doesn’t give up—even when the adults do.
  • The story is heartbreakingly believable but not without hope.
  • The word flenser just gives me the creeps.

Oh, and I have a new appreciation for kale. ;)

And now for the WINNING OF STUFF. You can enter to win signed copies of both books by filling out the Rafflecopter thingie below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

4 comments:

Andrea Mack said...

My daughters and I enjoyed Ashfall, and we're looking forward to reading Ashen Winter. I really want to know what happens to Alex and Darla!

DonLaPlant said...

Great post! It not only got me interested in the book(s), but also brought up an issue I've wondered about before, i.e. Does having a young male protagonist save/rescue a "damsel in distress" make the book less appealing to female readers? I'm sure most girls prefer to see themselves portrayed as more than mere "romantic interests who need saving," but I also wonder if there's something about the urge to protect or care for something/someone as a positive attribute of a narrative aimed at boys. The gender issues surrounding this issue seem based in an inherent double standard. If a girl helps/rescues a boy (e.g. Katniss/Peeta in Hunger Games, Tris/Tobias in Divergent, Grace/Sam in Shiver), is she heroic or is it perceived merely as a case of some nascent "maternal instinct"? And if a boy saves another boy (e.g. Sam/Frodo in LOTR, Harry/Any Male in HP), is it less sexist and thus more appealing to female readers? It strikes me that there's something about saving/helping people that's built in to the job description of being a heroic protagonist (male or female), and I suspect that appeals to many boys (and men). Does the admirable goal of avoiding sexism in books targeted to boys mean that male heroes can only rescue "dudes in distress"?

kaymcgriff said...

I have been wanting to read both books and share them with my students. I have some in mind that will love these stories.

Angie Smibert said...

Great comment, Don. I don't think dudes need only rescue other dudes in distress. In general, a person rescuing another person, regardless of either's gender, is not a bad thing. The rub lies in how the rescuee and rescuer are portrayed. In the case of Ashen Winter, Darla is Alex's equal. *spoiler alert* She needs rescuing only because she got shot and captured by flensers (who are keeping for other reasons)--while helping Alex look for his parents. It could've easily been Alex captured at that point.