Title: After the Lights Go Out
Author: Lili Wilkinson
Genre: Young Adult,
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 25th July, 2018
Synopsis: What happens when the lights go off after what might truly be an end-of-the-world event? How do you stay alive? Who do you trust? How much do you have to sacrifice?
‘After the Lights Go Out is a terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.’ – Fleur Ferris
Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year’s worth of water.
One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers’ house, and in the town. All communication is cut. No one knows why.
It doesn’t take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.
‘A gripping portrait of catastrophe at the edge of the world, love in extremis, and the lengths that survival can drive us to.’ – Justine Larbalestie
Prudence Palmer has lived in an isolated country town called Jubilee with her sisters – twins – Grace and Blythe, and their father Rick for three years. In these three years, they haven’t attended school, have barely interacted with friends, and have pretty much kept to themselves because their father is a prepper, who believes that the world will end, and they have a bunker filled with food and water for a year. They also have bags ready to go should they need to “bug out” as their father calls it. When the power goes out at the mine when Rick is there one day for a conference, and mass tragedy hits the town of Jubilee. In the small mining town of Jubilee, though, the tragedy unites the community, and the young boy whose mother has come to lead a conference, Mateo, who is quite fond of the word unacceptable throughout the book, befriends Prudence, and they form a bond that makes Prudence question what her father has drummed into her the past three years as he has cut them off from everything and everyone almost, pushing the idea that family should come first in a disaster, that worrying about the community is a waste of time and resources. With Rick missing for the majority of the novel and the several months it takes place over, Prudence and her sisters find themselves caught in a conundrum: do they keep their secret or share it with the town?
Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, things unravel, and the girls are drawn into the community after a few weeks alone, apart from going in to help each day, where they face more tragedy, and yet at the same time, Prudence finds that perhaps banding together and sharing resources is not such a bad thing – as each person has something different to offer – maybe they can find a way to get out of Jubilee and somewhere safer? As they go about their lives, the absence of Rick flutters away until the climax where Prudence is caught in a decision – loyalty to family or loyalty to the town?
The book is filled with diverse and amazing characters, from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, in a tiny town where yes, there are conflicts, but the quick realisation that working together will be the best thing – that community will help, and in the end, this rings true. They all band together for the memorial, for birth, for death and everything in between. Written with great care as well, the diverse cast is real, they’re family and they’re there for each other – including Mateo and his mother, Clarita, who are cut off from Mateo’s other mother in Melbourne – but who still soldier through to help Jubilee. Each character is integral to the plot and the way it unfolds and concludes, ensuring an ending that is uplifting and hopeful in the face of a tragedy that very nearly ended a town.
The premise of this #LoveOzYA novel is very different and unique, when put next to other ones, and that is what attracted me to it in the first place – the idea that the bonds of family, friendship and love of all kinds can be tested in a variety of ways, proving the strength of community in dire times – when everyone bands together to help each other, and does their best to set aside their differences. Whilst there is a touch of romance, it is not the be all and end all of the novel, and the way it was written, guts and all, flaws flailing about, and the general atmosphere of having such a relationship in the circumstances Prudence and Mateo found themselves in was refreshing – Lili doesn’t shy away from the realities of bodies or needing to wash, the lack of hygiene that the characters face for months on end – it is raw and real. This is what I enjoyed about it the most – they were free to be themselves, though they did have concerns about certain things, and they were free to make mistakes.
As were all characters. Nobody was perfect – not even Prudence’s dad planned for having three teenage daughters in his bunker, it would seem. So the girls have to use a bit ingenuity to come up with solutions to problems, that in turn they get to use to help the town. For much of the book, there is a hope that things will turn out, until the return of one resident sets in motion a series of quick events that force people to make last minute decisions, and that leads to a conclusion that in some ways, I had not expected, but that i had also hoped for – and leaving it open ended felt right, allowing the reader to imagine what happened next.