Fallout by Todd Strasser
It’s 1962, and all anyone is talking about is the possibility of nuclear war. Scott’s dad is the only person in their neighborhood who has prepared for the worst though, building a bomb shelter in their backyard, but praying they will never have to use it. Then, in the middle of the night, the unthinkable happens. As the sirens blare, Scott and his family run to the shelter, but are unable to close the doors before some of their neighbors force their way inside. Trapped underground, ten people in the space that was meant for four, with food and supplies for only four, they must survive until the radiation levels return to a sage level. But even worse than the possibility of starvation is what will remain once the door is opened again.
You know Todd Strasser. Even if you don’t think you do, you do. He has penned such tales as The Wave, Give a Boy a Gun, The Good Son, and Home Alone. Yes, that Home Alone. Strasser grew up during this nuclear war era. His dad built a bomb shelter in their backyard. And this story was the thing of his nightmares. What if nuclear war came? Would their shelter really have protected them? What about their neighbors, friends, family that were left behind on the other side?
I was absolutely entranced by this novel. The chapters bounce back and forth between the past (pre-bomb) and the present (in the bunker) making the pacing of this story incredible. The chapters of the past did a lot of world and character building, painting the picture of the fear that pervaded the children’s lives. We see how Scott and his best friend get along (or don’t), how different children were raised, how parents were reacting to this situation, of the terror of drills. Then, in the bunker, things are so dire that, despite liking the character building chapters, I was always eager to get back to the present. Would they survive? How do ten people share food meant for four for two weeks?
Just to be clear, this is not like the film Blast From the Past. This is an alternative history novel. In this book, a nuclear bomb really did go off. Everyone they knew, their neighbors, friends, wives, are dead. I definitely felt like I learned so much more about how people approached this situation than the slightly didactic, although very interesting Countdown. The characters felt so real and fleshed out. The fear is tangible. The hopelessness understandable. The desperate will to survive commendable.
At the end of the book, Strasser speaks about returning to his old home and visiting the bunker that his father had placed in the backyard. The hatch in the playroom had been sealed off, but the new owner had made an entrance from the yard. What the man found as he tried to break in were thick walls, reinforced with steel and concrete feet thick. His comment to Strasser, “Your father must have really wanted to keep you safe.”
One of the best books I have read this year. Oh, and I love the cover.