Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date – 1 August 2018
From bestselling Australian author Lili Wilkinson comes After the Lights Go Out, an incredible and powerful young adult adventure set in the heart of the bush that asks the impossible question: should a person choose family or community in an emergency?
Seventeen-year-old Prudence Palmer is a young woman living outside the small Australian outback town of Jubilee with her father, Rick, and her younger twin sisters, Grace and Blyth. To the other inhabitants of the town, they are just another mining family, living close to Rick’s workplace. However, they are actually hiding a much deeper secret: they are doomsday preppers. Convinced that the world will soon suffer some form of imminent catastrophe, Rick has moved his daughters off the grid to Jubilee and has constructed a hidden bunker out the back of his property. Filled with a substantial amount of food, medicine, equipment, weapons and entertainment, the bunker has everything they need to survive the end of the world. The girls have also been trained to survive and are ready to react against a variety of scenarios.
While Rick is sure a world-changing disaster is just around the corner, Pru is less certain, and is happy to keep her family’s activities a secret. So it is a great shock to her when something actually happens and every electrical device, modern car and generator in Jubilee suddenly fails. With Rick gone, Pru and her sisters must suddenly implement their survival plan without their father’s guidance and make the hard decision to hide their bunker and supplies from their friends in the town. With food, water and medicine becoming scarce, and with no transportation, communications or other vital necessities, the town starts to fall apart. As the situation gets even worse, Pru and her sisters must decide between helping their friends or doing as they have been trained and survive alone.
Lili Wilkinson is an exciting Australian author who has produced 10 intense and dramatic young adult novels since her 2006 debut, Joan of Arc: The Story of Jehanne Darc. Her eleventh novel, After the Lights Go Out is an outstanding standalone book that could potentially replace Tomorrow, When the War Began as the go-to disaster story for Australian young adult audiences. This book contains a dramatic and moving main story that plunges the world into chaos and places the potential survival of a small town in the hands of one young woman.
At the heart of this book lies a tough moral dilemma for the narrator Pru when she must decide between helping her local community and guaranteeing her family’s survival. Pru’s father, Rick, a hardcore survivalist, has stocked the family bunker with enough supplies to keep Pru and her sisters alive for several years. He has also taught his daughters to never help anyone but themselves, and to keep all their supplies for the family. When a disaster strikes and Rick goes missing, it is up to Pru and her sisters to make the decision, and at first they choose to keep the bunker and supplies hidden from their friends in Jubilee. As the situation in the town gets worse, Pru’s guilt conflicts with her father’s training and instructions. This internal debate is intensified when she falls in love with newcomer Mateo and watches him and his mother doing everything they can to save the townsfolk, despite the fact they are not locals and have no significant connection to people living there. Watching Pru’s internal struggle and the external debate with her sisters is intense, and the reader is left wondering what they would do in a similar situation. How Pru’s eventual decision affects her family and her relationships with the people of Jubilee is very memorable, and hits all the right emotional notes in this excellent story.
After the Lights Go Out contains an intriguing examination of the doomsday prepper phenomenon that is currently occurring around the world. The main character’s father believes every single conspiracy theory that exists and is determined to prepare his daughters for anything. It is clear that Wilkinson has done some significant research into survivalists and their various techniques, and as a result her characters are prepared for every doomsday scenario and have a ton of supplies and a high-tech bunker at their disposal. There is a lot of discussion and exposition about the various survivalist conspiracies, plans to live in an altered world, the necessary techniques and the ideal supplies that every prepper should have. Despite most doomsday preppers being American, many of the techniques in this book have an Australian flavour to them, as the girls know the local fauna, flora and means of survival out in the harsh bush conditions. While every preparation the Palmer family has undertaken is fascinating to read about, I found the examination of the improvised medical techniques the characters use to be particularly outstanding. This includes including one memorable and somewhat graphic sequence where the narrator needs to perform some rudimentary dentistry. Overall, the use of the doomsday preppers’ planning and theories is an incredibly intriguing part of this story that provides the reader with some cool facts and the results of the author’s in-depth research.
Wilkinson has also populated the book with some excellent characters who really bring the story together. While the Palmer sisters are good central characters and Pru is a great narrator who has to make a huge range of tough decisions, the best character has to be the Palmer father, Rick. Rick is a crazed survivalist who is convinced that the world is about to end and whose paranoia has driven him to outback Australia. When one of his disaster scenarios actually comes true, he becomes even more erratic, and watching his fears overcome his love for his daughters is very tragic to behold. There is also Mateo, the young American tourist and liberal city-slicker who is essentially the opposite of Pru when it comes to life experiences. The relationship between him and Pru is nice. It evolves at a natural pace and offers the reader some different insights into the situation and the motivations of the Palmer sisters. Another effective character is Keller Reid, the older boy with an unhealthy obsession with Pru’s younger sisters. Keller is a particularly despicable character who serves as a very annoying minor antagonist who moves the plot around. Watching him through the narrator’s eyes, you cannot help but hate him and hope he gets some eventual comeuppance. The other townsfolk of Jubilee are a good mixture of characters, and it’s nice seeing them come together as a community rather than break down and kill each other as Rick believed they would.
Another part of this book that stood out to me was Wilkinson’s use of the powerful Australian landscape and the examination of small country towns. The author provides some vivid images of the distinctive Australian bush, and looks at the various features that make it an intriguing backdrop for a story about survivalists. The author also produces some exceptional portrayals of the close communities that exists in small town Australia and how they their isolation might be both a benefit and a detriment to their survival in a doomsday scenario. It is definitely a unique setting for a catastrophe novel such as After the Lights Go Out, and one which I felt really added to the beauty and intensity of the story.
I really enjoyed this book and thought it was an incredible piece of literature from Wilkinson. Because of its excellent story and the phenomenal look it takes at survivalists and their viewpoint of the world, I think this book is perfect for its intended young adult audience, which could prove to be very empowering and enjoyable read for them. Parents should aware that there are some adult moments and a couple of graphic scenes, but this excellent and informative story is worth the risk. After the Lights Go Out is a deep and powerful five-star book that provides its readers with an excellent examination of doomsday preppers. This is definitely one of the best young adult books I have read this year and I cannot recommend this outstanding Australian book enough.