Author: Lili Wilkinson
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
I was captivated by this book. I find preppers endlessly fascinating. Full-on doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists seem driven by paranoia and pessimism and I find that sort of mindset curious.
Before I read this book, I thought that doomsday preppers were a little eccentric, maybe slightly mad. Pru’s father would certainly fit that bill, but what I also learnt is that doomsday preppers have some fantastic skills and are certainly prepared for any disaster that may prevail.
Pru, her two sisters and her doomsday prepper father live on the outskirts of Jubilee, a remote mining town in the Kimberley. The girls are home-schooled and live a relatively isolated existence as their father has forbidden any social media and they aren’t encouraged to make friends or become a part of the community. They spent most of their time learning skills and practising drills for the apocalypse. The girls humour their father, but unlike him, they don’t believe that one day the world will cease to exist as we know it.
So what happens when their dad is right? When a solar flare triggers a shutdown of all power and electronics and Pru and her sisters are thrown into a world that their father has prepared them for, or has he?
Pru’s father is away at work on the mines hundreds of miles away and Pru, as the oldest sister, must take charge and make decisions for her and her sisters. With a bunker of supplies and survival skills provided by their conspiracy-theory obsessed father, the girls know how to keep themselves safe. Pru’s dad has been prepping the girls for this event for years.
But the girls don’t think like their father and that’s where the problems arise. Pru’s dad has trained her for this event and in that training comes the mantra, ‘family first’. But Pru isn’t like her dad and she feels a connection to the people in the town. As each day passes and Pru feels the severity of the situation, she begins to wonder whether her father was right.
Would you share supplies, even if it meant depriving your family? Would you keep your family safe? Would you keep your secrets from a community that needed you? As an introvert and someone who doesn’t particularly like people, my first thought was that I would bunker down and not worry about the community. But I have to admit that Wilkinson made me question this decision and that’s the beauty of this book. I can understand Pru’s dilemma, she is following her dad’s directions and she feels an obligation to the only person who has ever taken care of her but is her dad right?
The book chronicles a disaster and its aftermath, but it is also a story of community, friendship and love. There is also a lot of humour in the book. The characters are beautifully written and you find yourself, like Pru, drawn to them. The people are realistically and honestly portrayed and Wilkinson has done an excellent job of making you care for each and every member of the community.
‘In the past,’ he says slowly, ‘the holiest priests were the ones who kept themselves apart from the world. They formed monasteries in harsh, remote places. They saw only one another, and spent their lives devoted to prayer. This, they told themselves, brought them closer to God.’ He uses a tea towel to wipe the mugs clean. ‘I respect their devotion, but honestly I think that’s nonsense. Prayer brings me comfort, but it doesn’t bring me closer to God. People do. Hard work. Helping others.’
After the Lights Go Out has a dramatic premise of a disaster placing Australia and most of the world in a situation that is scary and unthinkable for most, but like most Australian young adult writers Wilkinson writes with such humour that you find yourself laughing throughout the book. I love how Australian authors use humour to balance their stories.
Keller pulls his shirt over his head and follows her. He doesn’t react to the coldness of the water in any way, because he would think it unmanly to squeal. That’s the kind of dickhead he is.
Wilkinson is a brilliant writer. Her writing pulled me into the story and I was mesmerised from beginning to end. After the Lights Go Out is uncompromising, shocking, thrilling and yes, funny.