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Posted on 13 Feb 2020 in Fiction, SFF | 1 comment

LILI WILKINSON After the Lights Go Out. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley

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An outback mining town is the setting for the apocalypse in Lili Wilkinson’s novel.

In a parallel universe, a version of me gets to have a normal life, where ‘being prepared’ means bringing a cardigan…

Pru’s father is a doomsday prepper. She and her twin sisters are home-schooled in a small mining town in the Australian outback, receiving lessons in wilderness survival, resource rationing and keeping their bunker secret. When the unthinkable happens, and the apocalypse they’ve been drilled to prepare for actually occurs, 17-year-old Pru is left to look after her younger sisters, putting a lot of strain on their relationship. But her training wars with her conscience: can she really watch everyone else starve in order to protect her family?

We follow Pru’s emotional journey as she battles the brainwashing of a paranoid, controlling parent who, horror of all horrors for any teenager, turned out to be right. Even when her father isn’t physically present, all of his lessons are there on repeat in her head and reinforced by her sisters, reminding Pru how to feel and what to think:

I couldn’t help him.

I shouldn’t care, should I? I barely knew him. Dad would tell me that I was being sentimental. That I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture.

Family must come first.

To his daughters, their father is a distant figure, the man in charge, a force to be obeyed. Maybe he is just trying to protect them, but at what cost?

The twins are flopped on the couch in front of the television, devouring talk-show gossip so they can pretend they’re part of the real world. The satellite reception is usually pretty good but today it keeps dropping out. Sentences get cut off and even though I don’t really care which housewife of wherever is doing what, I find it infuriating. It’s a perfect metaphor for our existence out here. Every now and then we get a taste of what a normal life is like… but mostly, all we have is each other, and endless stretches of scrubby brown wilderness.

A little mining town in the outback is a clever setting for an apocalypse, where all access to the rest of the world is effectively cut off and it could be a very long time before anyone comes to help you or even to see if you survived. The uncertainty about the nature of the apocalyptic event that made all of the lights go out, and how widespread it is, both add to the tension.

This book is a commentary on doomsday prepping and putting your family first at the expense of your community. While it may be a little bleak at times (as you might reasonably expect), it has a really positive overall message. It also contains a lot of what young adult fiction really needs (like a love interest who isn’t brooding, abusive and/or emotionally repressed). This is part of what makes the book such a good read for both YA and adult audiences alike.

After the Lights Go Out is thought-provoking and does make you wonder what would happen if all the lights went out and there was no quick fix. Would it bring out the worst or the best in us?

Lili Wilkinson After the Lights Go Out Allen & Unwin 2018 PB 352 pp RRP $19.99

Amelia Dudley is currently taking a break from a Master’s degree focussing on plant biology. She is the proud aunt of many nieces and nephews. In her spare time she reads, gardens, draws, paints and doesn’t get to do enough writing.

You can buy After the LIghts Go Out  from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.


1 Comment

  1. Your reviewers do such a superb job that
    I want to know as much about them as the books they review.
    In this instance I want to see a drawing and a painting by Amelia Dudley, to help guess at her personality.
    My bet is that she is far too modest to permit that.