Blackout - young adult dystopian novel by Madeleine Henry

Free Promotion: 07/01/2014 - 07/03/2014



We don’t have proof of what happened. All we have are the stories that we’ve passed down in the sixty-seven years since the Blackout. Things told and retold in the dark. From everything I’ve heard, this is what I believe.

     In 2015, part of the sun erupted and shot a massive solar flare toward Earth. As a kid, listening to the stories, I always imagined the flare as an enormous ball of red flames speeding through outer space toward our planet. We didn’t stand a chance. When the flare hit, it short-circuited all satellites and power grids—everything—and every light in the world went out. All yellow windows turned black at exactly the same time.

     My grandmother, Skye Andrews, was six years old when the Blackout struck. It hit in the dead of night. All electronics—televisions, computers, phones—were instantly useless. Then came the terrifying chill. Temperatures plummeted everywhere until the air felt like ice. The next morning, the sun didn’t rise. With quivering hands over their open mouths, Skye’s parents huddled in front of their windows, shivered, and gaped. Jet-black clouds covered an ash sky. The whole world looked gray, and daylight was so dim that Skye felt like a shadow.

     All hell was about to break loose.

     Panic exploded, and government everywhere was silent. They didn’t say a goddamn word. I don’t care if they were stranded—or scared, or unable to reach anyone out of earshot—they didn’t do anything, and they should have. They should have kept order when people started to steal and fight each other like monsters.

     After two months of hell, there was a wall. Out of nowhere, this wall. A giant barrier running from east to west across the middle of the nation, and it still stands here today. Its gray concrete surface towers over fields and cities, marked at every mile by gates no one has ever seen open. The gates look like massive doors: impenetrable, titanium.

     My grandfather, Leiter Troublefield, first saw the wall through gaps between the boards on his window. His townhouse in Washington, DC—now my home—is just a hundred yards away from it. That day, for hours, he watched small crowds gather by its base. Everyone looked to everyone else for answers, but no one on this side of the wall—the south side—knew why it was there or how it had come to be. They weren’t told anything. Leiter said some people bowed to the wall, believing it was a miracle sent by God. Others scoured the cracks between concrete blocks with their fingertips, and some ran dead away in fear.

     Over time, people on this side of the wall resigned themselves to the new reality. Days would be wretched and dim. The four seasons would be undifferentiated and cold. Filled with too much snow. Most days were devoted to surviving: hunting, making fires, boiling water over open flames, and searching for things to use. After a few years, people on this side stopped considering themselves part of the United States of America and, through word of mouth, gave their territory a different name: the Dark Zone. Virginia became known as Dark Virginia and DC became Dark DC. We got the title DZs. We named the wall the Frontier.

     Then—the plagues came. Four years after the Blackout, they hit one right after the other. Leiter was kept inside, but he heard about the outbreaks from his parents. His mom said DZs had started moving further south or west for country air, but the Troublefields wouldn’t budge. “Not us,” she said firmly, and Leiter’s father agreed. They wanted to honor their home and their heritage—and stay.

     All along, the Frontier towered indifferently beside the Dark Zone. Leiter and Skye met when they were both thirteen, and for a while, they didn’t know whether life was better on the other side. Then the answer to that question became clear.

     They were sitting next to each other on his porch when it happened. They were both my age, about sixteen. The plagues had been gone for a few years, and people no longer avoided touching in the Dark Zone. Holding each other’s hands and resting their feet on the front steps, they both saw a sudden bright glare from beyond the Frontier. Gazing at the light, they were mesmerized. Mystified. They searched the yellow glow in the distance for some sort of clue—a hint, a sign, or anything that would help them understand—until slowly it dawned on them that they were staring at electricity.

     Their hearts stopped in their throats and time stood still as they waited for the Dark Zone to light up, too. Any second, they kept thinking, but nothing changed. Darkness remained on their side of the Frontier. That’s when they finally understood what the Frontier was for: to keep them out. To keep everyone in the Dark Zone out. The United States must have found a way to restore power, and there wouldn’t be enough for everyone anymore. Leiter and Skye realized that Americans had built the Frontier to contain electricity in the northern half of the country. And DZs would stay in the dark.

     Easies. What Easies. That’s what we call the people on the other side, because their lives are easy. We still don’t know how they live, but they have the electricity, so details don’t matter. Life with power must be better than life with nothing. DZs haven’t fought each other since the day light was restored in America, because that’s when we realized who the real enemy is: the Easies.

     Now, more than six decades after the Blackout, we still struggle to survive in the Dark Zone. I’m tough, and I’m smart, and it’s still not easy. Every day, we see hints of lives we can’t have and then fall asleep hungry. Cold. There have been no successful attempts at government, and our world is as grim and gray as ever. We’d use wind power or coal—or anything that worked—but the plagues left us with too few people to fix the transmission lines. Or to come up with a better idea. So we live in small numbers. In ruin. In the dark.

     This—yes, this—is my world.

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