POD by Stephen Wallenfels
I’m frankly astonished this one hasn’t been mentioned more often and made more of a fuss of. I also had no idea until a quick bit of Google-fu five minutes ago that this book has a sequel! Break out the party streamers!
So without furthur ado, allow me to introduce you to POD
Publisher: Templar Publishing, image above used with their permission, sourced from waterstones.com
Imagine this – one day, with no warning, aliens invade Earth. There’s no big battles, no rush of little green men, no, all that happens is these round metal balls appear in the air – and zap anyone who steps foot outside of a building.
Megs is 12 and is trapped in the multistory carpark of a hotel. Her mum went out to get some food and now Megs doesn’t know where she is. She has very little food, almost no water and no way to defend herself. She’s completely alone.
Will is stuck in his house with his OCD dad and his dog. He’s left to wonder what has happened to his own mum, who was also out when the spheres arrived. His dad is quick to prepare for a long stay but eventually the food starts to run out. How will Will and Meg survive as hope dwindles and people get desperate?
I normally don’t do too well with apocalyptic end-of-the-world fiction – I read the blurbs and I feel like I know how the book’s going to end tragically already, and who wants to read a book when they know how it ends? -but I read this one and despite my genre-dislike it was such a page turner. The short chapters and quick changeover between the two characters built tension up more and more and more, until I found myself deliberately staying over on my lunch break just to finish the last chapter, something I have never done before or since. It’s told from the point of view of both teens, so that we can see firsthand exactly what is happening as Megs tries to hide in her car from opportunistic thieves and Will tries to cope with his dad’s strict rationing and decision about their dog.
It raises the question of just what you would do in extreme circumstances; you can’t help it, you get so involved with the characters. Meg has to cope with hiding from thugs and murderers, all while trying to survive herself and keep her humanity when others seem to be losing theirs in their desperation. Every gain she makes in her efforts you feel yourself, you can almost feel your body sigh when she finds some more food or drink. Will also has a steep learning curve when his dad warns him against his neighbours. You find yourself railing against his dad as much as Will himself does, even though you know in your heart of hearts that what Will’s dad is saying is absolutely right and logical. You feel both characters immense worries for their mums’ safety. The aliens almost don’t matter – they’re just a plot device. What really matters are Will and Meg and you get so wrapped up in them that you don’t care where the aliens come from, you’re far more interested in what the humans are doing to Will and Meg. I love books that bring home such vivid characters, great plots alone don’t make much of a story for me when I can’t put myself in a character’s shoes.
The book is heartbreaking in some ways as you stand witness alongside Megs to man’s cruelty and selfishness and by Will and his dad when they’re confronted with the hopelessness of the situation. The ending is perfect, but it will stay with you a long time – a year on from reading this book and I still think of this as one of the most gripping reads I’ve had for a long time. POD needs more recognition than it gets – it could stand on a shelf next to the Michel Grant’s Gone series and Charlie Higson’s Enemy series without any issue whatsoever. A word of warning though – because of certain events in the book, it is perhaps better suited to older teen readers than younger ones, leave a comment if you want to know exactly why. A clever, make-you-think book.