I cannot imagine what I might do if I were in the dire circumstances of Emily Shepard. It's too horrible to imagine butChris Bohjalian
does an outstanding job of defining the horror of being the sole surviving family member, the only living child of two "only-child" parents. Emily finds herself alone, homeless, and frightened after a nuclear power plant meltdown destroys the life she knows in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It happens when Emily is at school and rumors begin to surface when authorities begin to evacuate the Kingdom and the posh Reddington boarding school Emily attends. No one is certain about what exactly IS going on in the small community but when hoards of emergency vehicles are spotted passing the school, it is clear that there has been a major disaster. When the National Guard shows up to help with evacuees, everyone knows it has something to do with Cape Abenaki, the power plant that Emily's father oversees as the chief administrator. When news spreads and the details become available, suddenly Emily's father, once on suspension for drinking during operation, is being accused of causing the destruction and the death of those killed at the plant. The entire Shepard family is being held accountable for the devastating loss of homes, lives, and community. Emily is overhearing bits and pieces of what happened. There was a massive explosion. Both of her parents worked at the plant. Her father had left early that morning to manage a growing problem of flooding at the plant. Mira, Emily's mother, is a communications specialist at the plant and left to check on her husband before Emily got off to school. Emily begins to panic and tries to call her parent's cell phones. With each passing ring, Emily becomes frantic. Are both of her parents dead? Faced with accusations and increasing anger aimed at her, Emily flees the safety she has been dropped into and hastily makes a decision to return home to rescue her dog, Maggie, and make an attempt to find her parents, even if she already knows their fate. However, an "exclusion zone" is in place and is guarded by soldiers. No one is going in. Emily is forced to make a Plan B. Emily has lots of Plan B's and none of them tend to work out. She drifts from one shelter to the next under a peuedonym, fearing she will be discovered and forced to testify against her father. Emily is bullied out of one shelter when another girl threatens to expose her identity. Emily finds herself making one bad choice after the other. Accompanied by Andrea and trying to survive, the girls find themselves pimped out by a war vet, dependent on drugs to escape reality, and a life so different and opposite than the one Emily led at home. She wonders what she will become, who she has become. Then, Emily finds a nine-year old run away named Cameron and soon her life becomes seperated into two parts: Before Cameron and After Cameron. This is a gut-wrenching story of an orphaned girl struggling to survive the most horrific circumstances that a troubled teen could ever have to endure. It's the story of a girl seeking a new self amongst the destruction of her old self. For me, what I took away from this story was that our lives and family, even though we complain and want more than we have or more than we deserve, are sometimes good enough. On reflection, perhaps the life we spend griping about is already pretty great. The family we become angry with when we don't get our way really does love us afterall. Perhaps, digging deep enough, we CAN find something about ourselves, our family, our lives to be grateful for because for that day, faced with unsurmountable problems, we can close our eyes to all of life's fears and uncertainties and there is someones hand to hold onto, to guide us through those difficult dark days that life throws at us.