Emmy Laybourne doesn’t waste any time dumping her characters (or the reader) into the middle of it in her post-apocalyptic YA novel, Monument 14. Sixteen-year-old Dean and his thirteen-year-old brother, Alex are going to miss their respective school buses and they’re so frantic not to be late, they don’t even bother to “stop and hug [their mother] and tell her [they] love her.” Of course, neither of them realizes that it might be the last time they will ever see their mother.
Dean’s ride to school is pretty much the same every day. He hopes that Jake, the high school football captain, and Braydon, the school bully, won’t notice him and he hopes, Astrid, Jake’s girlfriend, champion diver, scornful goddess, and girl of Dean’s dreams, will. As he slinks down in his seat, Dean tunes into his minitab (I’m thinking like an iPod shuffle) and tries to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.
That’s when things go from the ordinary to the extraordinary. It starts to hail. Hard.
…suddenly the roof of the bus started denting – BAM, BAM, BAM – and a cobweb crack spread over the windshield. …Hail in all different sizes from little to that-can’t-be-hail was pelting the street.
Dean’s bus ends up on its side. He can see that his brother’s bus is still going and in fact the driver, Mrs. Woolly, has smashed right through the entrance of Greenway, a huge superstore. Dean is relieved that his brother is safe, but he’s also aware that things aren’t so good on his bus. His driver, Mr. Reed, “was pinned behind the wheel and blood was spilling out of his head like milk out of a carton.”
The students on Dean’s bus make it into the Greenway. In total, there are fourteen students who take shelter there, some as young as five. Mrs. Wooly sets out to find help, leaving the kids to fend for themselves, which they do by barricading themselves into the superstore.
At first it seems like fun. Astrid used to work in the superstore’s pizza place and she knows how to use the equipment. The kids can have any flavor of slushie they want. Then they watch the news. Seems like the hailstorm in Monument, Colorado is actually just a byproduct of a much more serious natural event. And to make matters worse, that event had caused a problem at the nearby NORAD facility which has leaked toxic chemical warfare compounds into the atmosphere. Scary things can happen if you breathe in the air.
Monument 14 steams along without wasting too much time. I don’t mean to imply that you don’t get to know or care for the characters, you do, but Laybourne doesn’t let the prose slow down the plot. This novel is driven by the kids’ and their need to survive. They’ve got it slightly easier than most, as they have supplies at their disposal – but they are also just kids. They are cut off from the outside world with no real idea what is going on or what has happened to their parents.
I couldn’t put the book down and I started the sequel, Monument 14: Sky on Fire this morning.