With no warning, the world as ten year old Beatrice knows it ends. After weeks spent in a bunker her parents fortunately had the foresight to build into their home, it’s clear that everything has changed. Now they must make their own way, grow their own food, and defend themselves against roving nomadic scavengers who would take what little they have left to survive.
The Verdict: I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up; I think I just wanted something different. And The Blast is different in the very best way.
Beatrice is just a child when she spots the giant mushroom cloud that announces the end of American society. Rushed into a concrete bunker by her parents, she hides out with her family and a couple of neighbors, not fully understanding just what has happened. When they emerge, their entire world has changed, and the threat is no longer nuclear bombs but random strangers against whom they must defend their lives and their resources.
In The Blast we see Beatrice lose her childhood overnight, and then we watch her grow up into a resourceful young woman in a changed world. It’s interesting to see things unfold through her eyes; she’s just old enough to see clearly what’s happening around her but just young enough that she’s still completely reliant on her parents to interpret the world for her. Her parents weren’t what I would call Doomsday Preppers. While they had a bunker and some ways to provide for themselves, they didn’t have a whole underground mansion outfitted for years of survival. Fortunately, they had guns, first to defend themselves and then to hunt, and they were more than capable of growing a garden and maintaining the basics for survival.
Unlike other post-apocalyptic stories I’ve read, Beatrice’s family doesn’t set out for parts unknown or wait for the government to rescue them. They just sort of hunker down and continue their lives on their property just outside of town. In this way, we see more of the normal day-to-day life after the bombs, with threats coming in the form of armed and violent scavengers as opposed to makeshift militias, zombies, or plague victims. Over time, they find other survivors like themselves, some lost and still alive thanks to nothing but dumb luck and circumstance, and together they become a small circle of makeshift families.
Beatrice’s initial coming of age destroys her innocence in an instant. Not only does she find herself killing in defense of herself and her family, but she also watches someone she loves die because there is simply no medical help available. These two events in fairly quick succession send her mind to a dark place, but she eventually emerges as a strong, capable teen. Of course, no story of growing up would be complete without the bickering between friends, a crush, and wondering what the future will bring. It’s nearly impossible for her to dream of a happily ever after, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t grow into wanting someone for herself.
I feel like if I list out all the things that were so wonderful about this story, I’ll end up spoiling it. It’s heartbreaking, hopeful, and so damned terrifying all at once, and scenes play out as simply and as poignantly as they do in the non-fiction world. In Beatrice’s mind, we struggle to comprehend the sudden absence of civilization, seek normalcy in the remnants of society, and press on in an effort to survive and perhaps thrive. I would imagine this is the most realistic post-apocalyptic story I’ve ever read, though I hope I never get to confirm that. With life, loss, and eventually love, The Blast quite frankly blew me away.