‘The Big Dark’ by Rodman Philbrick: Middle grade scifi/survival story


Rating: 4 stars

“The Big Dark” by Rodman Philbrick is a scary story because it could come true. Rodman Philbrick explains how something very like the total power failure that he writes about could really happen. In the story, a solar flare knocks out the power grid all over the country, and those in the remote New Hampshire town where Charlie lives must try to survive. Charlie and his family have a wood stove, so as long as the wood holds out, they will not freeze to death.

But there are other dangers — not just hunger but danger on two legs. In the midst of this chaos, Charlie realizes that he needs to go on a journey to get medication to save his mother. How will he travel in the middle of the harshest winter? What will happen to his family while he is gone?

Philbrick’s writing makes the story difficult to put down. He creates characters who are real — with their faults and heroism. He also creates a really evil bad guy. One who is scary because we have all heard about his kind. They are real.
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Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick

draw the dark

Rating: 5 stars

(Please NOTE: This is a reprint of a 2011 review)

“Draw the Dark” by Ilsa J. Bick is an unusual book for young adults. It’s a combination of historical fiction, psychological fiction, fantasy and mystery all rolled up into one very interesting read.

The protagonist, Christian, is a different kind of kid. He has few friends, the townspeople think he’s odd, and — worst of all — he thinks he’s almost a kind of monster. Because he thinks he caused the death of his second grade teacher and his aunt (and perhaps he did), he suffers emotionally.

Christian also doesn’t sleep well. While he is sleeping and dreaming, he is actually doing things — sleepwalking? Or acting as a conduit for a boy who lived half a century ago? He paints, he defaces barns, he draws, all while asleep. Christian gets his opportunity to find out about the mysterious images that he depicts and that he sees in his dreams when his class begins a history project on their town, Winter.

Winter is a town based on the real town of Kohler, Wisconsin. Its origins go back to 1918 when John Kohler build a large dormitory for the European immigrants who came to Wisconsin to work at his plumbing factory. The dormitory offered a pub, cafeteria, bowling alley, barbershop and classrooms for English and citizenship lessons.

In “Draw the Dark,” the foundry owner has brought Europeans (mainly Germans) to work at his factory. Most of the families in town owe their livelihoods to Eisenmann, the founder of the factory and the source of income for the town.

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