I have been a fan of Rodman Philbrick's work since I read The Young Man and the Sea when it came out back in 2006. That book remains a favorite in my library and resonates especially with my middle grade boy readers who, like the protagonist, live on the water here in mid-coast Maine.
Philbrick's new offering is an apocalyptic tale set in a world that is just like ours, except for the fact that a geomagnetic storm has destroyed all forms of electricity. Cars won't drive, lights won't illuminate, batteries won't power; there's no TV, no radio, no running water, no heat, no phones, no computers. Charlie, his younger sister, and his mom hunker down and make do with that they have. As long time residents of Harmony, New Hampshire, they are industrious and creative, so they find ways to stay warm and fed, despite the fact that it is the dead of winter. The community, however, starts to splinter, and there are those who use the chaos to their advantage, including one particularly scary right wing militant family. When Charlie's diabetic mom slips into a coma because she doesn't have the medicine she needs, Charlie makes a bold decision to try to help her, even though it means risking his own life.
This is a page turner, with pretty much non-stop action, but I also like that Philbrick addresses some bigger questions about how we take care of one another in our communities, how dependent we are on "the grid" and how doing the right thing can sometimes be incredibly scary.
The Big Dark addresses deep philosophical questions within a remarkably short (under 200) page span, which makes this a great choice for both reluctant and avid middle grade readers.