So I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been reading a lot more YA books. So I thought I’d give them their own spotlight. So to kick it off, I’ll take a look at Flagstaff author Austin Aslan’s apocalyptic thriller The Islands at the End of the World.
Inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s brutal award-winner The Road and the TV show Lost, Aslan’s debut novel follows Leilani Milton, a 16-year-old half-Hawaiian girl living in Hilo on the Big Island. An avid surfer, Leilani unfortunately suffers from epilepsy, but she is hopeful thanks to a new, experimental treatment in Honolulu. So Leilani and her father pack up and fly to Oahu to try out this new treatment.
And that’s when the shit hits the fan. A mysterious green cloud fills the sky, and suddenly power is failing around the globe. Cell networks are down. Compasses aren’t working. Planes are grounded. Hundreds of thousands of tourists are stuck on Oahu with no way to return home.
And it only gets worse. In less than a month, society on the island has broken down, food and gasoline are running short. Riots are breaking out with native Hawaiian gangs harassing the increasingly restless tourists. And the military aren’t helping — herding people into makeshift camps with the promise that soon they will be able to transport them off the island.
And Leilani’s epileptic fits have returned, accompanied by strange visions of Hawaiian Gods which seem to have something to do with the arrival of the green cloud
Amidst this chaos, Leilani and her father realize they cannot expect any help to get home, and stage a daring escape from the military base, stealing provisions, weapons and eventually a boat to sail home.
Along the way they see how far civilization has fallen, encountering sailors looking to trade sexual favors for passage, as well as a ruthless sheriff who is attempting to restore the warrior culture of islands, setting himself up as a new Kamehameha.
The book is a harrowing look at the breakdown of society, and what man will do to survive. Leilani and her father try to stay civilized, but circumstances and necessity force them to do whatever they can to stay alive and find their way home.
But despite the brutal setting, there is hope, like a merciful priest on Molokai, gathering stragglers into his flock and hoping to hold off the descent into chaos.
And the pristine beauty of the Hawaiian Islands shines through in Aslan’s prose. He wrote the novel in Hilo while working on a master’s degree in biology and his love of the islands shines through every page.
Indeed, as much as The Islands at the End of the World is a cautionary eco-tale about our dependence on technology and tribute to the human spirit of survival, it is a love letter to the islands that birthed it.
The sequel, The Girl at the Center of the World, hits stores next Tuesday, Aug. 4 and Aslan will host a release party along with fellow Arizona YA author Amy K. Nichols at Changing Hands Phoenix on Aug. 8.