POD by Stephen Wallenfels
Dropping down through the clouds, silent like a spider on a web, is a massive black sphere.
It’s a mile away, at least, but even from this distance it dwarfs the neighborhoods below. I brace myself for the horror of watching houses crushed with people inside. But it stops well above the trees, maybe five hundred feet off the ground. It hovers soundlessly. (p. 14)
At 5:00 in the morning, just days from his sixteenth birthday, a painfully loud metallic noise jarred Josh from his sleep. Hundreds of miles to the south, twelve-year-old Megs was already awake, waiting in a car for her mother to return from a job interview. The noise that shook them both, as well as millions of other people, announced the arrival of giant spaceships capable of making people and cars on the street disappear in a second.
Short chapters and a fast-paced, alternating first-person narration make POD a quick, engrossing read. Stephen Wallenfels continually ratchets up the novel’s suspense by raising the stakes for both Josh and Megs. Josh is stuck at home in Prosser, Washington with his father (his mother was away at a conference), unable to leave the house to gather supplies or see if his friends are okay, or anything else, really. He initially comes across as pretty self-centered—concerned about his mom, yes, but also a bit whiny in his petty rebellions against his father’s instinctive reaction to chart and plan everything he can to survive as long as possible.
Megs’ situation is the more immediately suspenseful, and not just because she was more sympathetic than Josh from the start. Her single mother parked their car in a hotel parking structure and instructed Megs to stay their until she returned. But with dangerous men breaking into and ransacking nearly every vehicle in the garage, she should leave the car and find someplace safer to hide, right?
While Josh and his father struggle to ration their remaining food and water, Megs must scavenge for supplies. With communications out, no one knows what the ships will do or what’s going on in other parts of the world; Josh doesn’t even know if his mother is still alive. And when, on day 13, all electrical devices—even battery-powered ones—suddenly stop working, survival becomes that much tougher.
Each chapter in POD covers a day in Josh or Megs’ life. Because the narratives focus on the more suspenseful or dramatic events of the day (and skipping over a couple of days), the story doesn’t really drag. This also allow Wallenfels room for character development; by the end of the story, Josh is a much more sympathetic character.
However, by the end of the story, readers will also have some unanswered questions. Thankfully, according to Wallenfels’ website, he is currently writing a sequel to POD.
Book source: public library.
Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.