Sunday, November 10, 2013

BOOK NOOK REVIEW: "How I Became a Teenage Survivalist" by Julie L. Casey

How I Became  Teenage Survivalist
Julie L. Casey

Bracken is a sixteen-year-old Midwest boy preoccupied with the normal teenage concerns. The background hum of his world revolves around farm life at home with his parents, school, the normal one-upmanship between him and his older brother Alex, his annoyance with his younger brother Calvin, and the inch of skin playing peek-a-boo between Silky Henderson’s belt line and shirt each time the girl leans forward.

But all that changes drastically when a series of explosions rock the area, throwing the school into immediate lockdown while fires and smoke rise in the town. They are told that “PF Day,” or Power Failure Day, is the result of a huge solar storm, effectively catapulting residents back to an era before electricity.

Somewhat secluded, Bracken’s town and family have no idea of the expanse of the problems, so they hunker down and rely of the skills of their grandparents and the bounty their farming community can provide. Services are out, including schools, so Bracken’s mother encourages him to keep a journal chronicling the effects of PF Day and their efforts to carry on life. How I Became a Teenage Survivalist is Bracken’s journal.

From the backcover:

Bracken is a typical teenage boy, more interested in the angles of the girl's exposed back teasing him from the seat ahead of him than in anything the geometry teacher could present. His life is filled with school, video games, and thoughts of girls, not necessarily in that order. Life just flows along uneventfully and unacknowledged, like the electricity that courses through the power lines — until PF (Power Failure) Day. On PF Day, the sun strikes Bracken's world with an unseen surge of electromagnetic fury, which cripples power stations and burns transformers to crispy nuggets of regret. 

No one in Bracken's world had ever thought about how much they depended on electrical power, but now, without it, they are plunged into survival mode. Without electricity there is no communication, no modern conveniences, and soon, no modern means of transportation, as the reserves of refined gasoline run dry. Worse still is the failure of the water and sewer systems, the impossibility of getting food and supplies to people living in cities, and the deaths of millions of people from starvation, disease, and lack of medical care. 

Bracken soon realizes how lucky he is to live on a farm in the Midwest. What seemed like a dull and backwards life before is now the greatest chance for survival in what seems like a powerless world. Food, water, and heat are readily available, although hard work is required to make use of them. Bracken and his family must learn to survive like their ancestors, who settled their land. Told in the first person, Bracken tells the story of how they not only survive, but how PF Day actually makes their lives better and more satisfying.

Told in first-person, we are in Bracken’s head. Ms. Casey paints her young hero as a naïve, emotionally young innocent, whose primary concerns are the absence of a social life and lack of entertainment, but from the first day we begin to see both the agonies and the quiet blessings the power failure causes as families unify, brothers “man-up,” and pull together to address family needs and challenges.

As time passes with little technical advance, word of the expanse of the disaster arrives. Bracken and his family’s preparation move from concerns over providing food, to defense, preparing for medical emergencies, and the need to prepare for a future without power.

Julie L. Casey has done an exquisite job showcasing the scope and challenges of such a disaster, and the creative solutions her characters employ make this a fascinating read. Readers interested in emergency preparedness will appreciate Casey’s inclusion of links and websites for further information on solar storms and survival.

I struggled with investing in Bracken's character initially. While his choices and actions portray him as dependable and mature, things change when we are "in his head." His side-bar conversations occasionally drift into silliness more attributable to a middle school-er, and I found his preoccupation with make-out sessions tedious and distracting. But Casey wisely allows him to grow and develop throughout the book, so hang on. By the middle of the book he emerges as a confident, tender, responsible, balanced young hero.

Readers take a leap of faith as they enter a new world constructed by an author. Casey’s book is worthy of a reader’s trust. She has done her research, and she delivers a creative read that will keep you turning pages, and have you questioning what you would do if you had to become a survivalist.

 How I Became A Teenage Survivalist is available on Amazon. It boasts two trailers. You can find them at and

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