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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 96 Miles, by J.L. Esplin, is the story of two brothers, 13 and 11, walking down a remote highway in the wilds of Nevada and trying to survive. The situation is desperate, because the power has gone out, there's no word from the outside world, their widowed father is away on a business trip, and armed adults have robbed them of all their supplies -- food, water, generators, gasoline -- so they're determined to trek nearly 100 miles in the blazing heat to reach family friends. Along the way, they have plenty of encounters with the best and the worst of human behavior brought on by disaster, from brave kids and self-sacrificing adults to violent, weapon-wielding us-against-them types, as well as people driven by paranoia to attack their lifelong friends. Adults rob kids while pointing a gun at one of their heads. Guns and knives are brandished a lot, sometimes in self-defense and some by crazy or predatory people. The robbers are robbed of their truck when their teen victims have skills like hot-wiring and driving vehicles. Two of the kids have Type 1 diabetes, which adds further danger to an already dire situation. Family, friendship, courage, responsibility, and determination to do right, even when things are at their most dystopian, are strong themes.
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What's the story?
96 MILES finds two young brothers on a desperate trek to what they hope is safety in the wake of a massive disaster. When the father of John (13) and Stewart (11) Lockwood leaves them alone at their isolated Nevada home to go on a business trip, John feels a little burdened by the responsibility. But it's nothing he can't handle, since their dad, a strong believer in the sort of practical self-reliance you need to live in the middle of nowhere, has taught them well. He's left them with plenty of food, water, generators, gasoline, and so forth to get them through whatever might come up, and good neighbors nearby. But things change fast when, without warning, the power goes out in the whole western United States, nobody knows why, and there's no communication with the outside world. After adults rob them of all their supplies, and their neighbors leave to seek medical assistance, the boys decide their only option is to make the 96-mile trek down a remote highway to some family friends, and they soon meet two kids in similar straits who join them. They also meet a lot of adults determined to rob them of what little they've got left. And broiling sun seems determined to kill them.
Is it any good?
First-time author J.L. Esplin brings a riveting tale of kids on a deserted Nevada highway in the wake of a multiweek power outage that, as they sometimes note, could signal the zombie apocalypse. Thirteen-year-old John and his newfound friend Cleverly, a girl his age, grapple with the challenges of keeping themselves and their younger sibs alive as they endure blazing sun, hot asphalt, dust, wind, and no water. They meet some people who try to help them and others who'd gladly rob them and leave them to die. It's way more than kids their age should have to deal with, but it's not like they have a lot of choice. And the journey presents a lot of moments that test them, their values, and their character, even as it raises the nagging possibility that all that may not matter any more, at least to a lot of people.
"I know. I get it. People do crazy things when their own survival is at stake, things they never thought they'd do. Like rob kids at gunpoint. Or drink toilet water. Or commit grand theft auto. Or deny lifesaving help to the kid you've called family for the last five years. But the thing is, if you do survive, you still have to live with yourself."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the portrayal of kids left to fend for themselves in a dire situation in 96 Miles. How do they cope? Why do you think this is such a popular theme in storytelling? What other examples do you know? Do you find this kind of story thrilling, inspiring -- or too scary to deal with?
The man who makes off with the kids' food and water makes a big fuss about how bad he feels, but says he needs what he's taking so he's going ahead and stealing all they have and leaving them to die. Do you think if you're doing something bad, it makes a bit of difference to your victim or anyone else whether you feel bad about it at the time but go ahead anyway?
Did you know about highway mile markers and how they work before you read this story? Do you think you'll pay more attention to them on your next road trip?
- Author: J. L. Esplin
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Starscape
- Publication date: February 11, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 4, 2020
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