Wednesday, January 12, 2011

the mother of all nor'easters

What with recent snows in the South and along the Atlantic seacoast there's been a lot of chatter about various snowpocalypses (snowpocalypsii?) recently, but seriously, what would happen if a blizzard went on for a week and dumped over 18 feet of snow?  Would you be prepared? Do you think you could survive?

Now, imagine you're in a high school, you're one of seven kids and one teacher who didn't get out while the roads were clear. The blizzard has made it so you have no connection with the outside world, and despite the fact that you are missing, no one has any reason to believe you're still at the school and need to be rescued. What happens then?

This it the premise of Michael Northrop's Trapped, a taut, first-hand tale of survival among Scotty Weems and his six schoolmates who, for a variety of reasons, are trapped inside their high school at the beginning of the Blizzard to End All Blizzards.  As Scotty narrates the story from the vantage point of surviving it, he keeps the reader at arms-length from knowing exactly how it will all turn out but he isn't coy about admitting up front that not everyone makes it out alive.

This sort of close third person narrative can be difficult to pull off, but Northrop does a good job keeping the reader in the moment as Scotty recounts the incidents which are still clearly fresh in his mind.  In fact, it would be hard not to have such memories forever burned in ones memory.  As each day brings new considerations – falling temperatures, the need for food, power outages, freezing water pipes – the teens do their best to mitigate the disaster and push ahead not knowing that unlike other storms this one just isn't going to end soon.  They live in the moment because thinking about trying to survive long-term would be both depressing and frightening.  Readers know going in how long the blizzard lasts, so like a timer on a movie bomb we have a heightened sense of when everything is going to blow, one way or another, but these kids haven't got a clue and knowing that creates a marvelous, twisted tension throughout.

I am writing this review twenty-four hours in advance of our pending "winter weather advisory" with the projected snow amounts increasing every four hours. In New England it isn't unusual for projections to be wildly inaccurate because (and weather people will be the first to admit it) these things take on a life of their own.  A storm can stall out and roll in place under the right conditions, like a slow-motion freezing hurricane, and dump tons of snow or they can drift over the water and fall harmlessly on the ocean.  It can go both ways, you can either over-imagine the worst and stock up the larder only to have a dusting of snow, or you can assume it's overblown and find yourself digging a tunnel to your sidewalk.  One thing is certain, if you're projected to get a 100% chance of precipitation, it's going to happen no matter what.

Northrop clearly understands the mindset that allows for a situation like this to occur and (with one quibbling detail not worth mentioning) buries Scotty and his friends under an avalanche of bad timing, bad luck, and bad decisions all around.  It's the sort of story that can launch a thousand "what if" conversations among readers about what they would do in similar situations, and begs the question: Can you ever be too prepared for the worst case scenario?

by Michael Northrop
Scholastic 2010


Unknown said...

Really? People die?? I think that being trapped in a school sounds like a lot of fun (having the fun of the school, plenty of books and movies, food in the cafeteria and all of the snacks stashed in teacher drawers...) but evidently this is not that kind of story! Either way, I am definitely reading Trapped once I find it! Thanks for the info.

Kate Coombs said...

Oh, thank you! My students will like this one.

david elzey said...

indeed, katie, people die. the cafeteria isn't such a gold mine after all. the fun of school is mitigated by the fact that there's no power and the windows are covered in snow that blocks out the light.

while i would like to think i would have behaved differently as a teen, i think its a question of group dynamics, which northrop explores both here and as he did with his debut last year in gentlemen.

please come back and let me know what you, katie, and your students, kate, think of it.