Even More Important Than Survival Is...
Reviewed in the United States on 11 February 2021
Almost-thirteen-year-old Maddie is “a ghost in a twenty-first century ghost town,” after a mysterious event wipes out the entire population Millerville, Colorado—overnight—in Megan E. Freeman’s ALONE.
What happened? How and why was Maddie spared? Will she survive? Will she find her family? Will her family find her?
Maddie’s experience really is a kid’s worst nightmare. Narrating through striking, skeletal prose, she discloses details about herself, her family, and her friend, Emma, a fashionista—who never told Maddie about her parents’ pending divorce.
“I am on my own…childhood is over.” Matter-of-factly, Maddie doesn’t complain. A resourceful and independent bookworm, Maddie “gets to work,” moving to her dad’s house, stocking up for winter, growing a garden, outwitting hungry coyotes and looters, and overcoming other “impossible obstacles."
It doesn’t take long for Maddie to realize survival is more than food, water, and shelter. She craves the irreplaceable comfort of people. Not even Maddie’s furry companion George can replace the sound of the human voice. There is none like it “in all the world,” Scott O’Dell’s epigraph warns the reader. Maddie wants her mom. She’d even settle to be back in math, surrounded by people she “didn’t even realize [she] loved.” A flushing toilet lends her a moment of feeling human again.
As fall moves into winter, spring, summer, and back into fall, Maddie reads, sleeps, and forges her way through the days. The reader imagines her sitting by the fire, flashlight in hand, journaling in what becomes the book.
Between the bindings are words about words. Even the spaces speak. Heaven, Exploration, Peril, Desolation, Acceptance, Reconciliation: ALONE is broken into parts by single, stark terms and their definitions. A postcard, text messages, voicemail, a book report, and a letter to God add depth and dimension to structure and plot. Like an ice crystal in the Colorado winter, the novel catches light, giving color and hope to what it means to be human.
Freeman artfully adds hollow beauty to the survival story. Maddie’s whispers trail from the last pages: “There is only this / the touch of their hands / skin on warm skin / to be held / to be seen / to be heard / to be known / these are the nutrients…”
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