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BOOK REVIEW: After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

| 5 August 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

Allen & Unwin
July 2018
Paperback, $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Contemporary / Speculative


Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year’s worth of water. Each of the girls has a ‘bug out bag’, packed with water purification tablets, protein bars, paracord bracelets and epipens for Pru’s anaphylaxis.

One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers’ house, and in the town. No one knows why. All communication is cut. It doesn’t take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.


For the last three years Pru and her twin sisters, Blythe and Grace, have been run through drill after drill by their paranoid prepper father, who moved the family out to the desert after their mother left.

I hear a clunk as an internal bolt releases. Then I push, and the door swings open. We step into the Paddock.
Dad named it the Paddock after Winston Churchill’s second, out-of-town war room bunker during World War Two. He thinks it’s very clever because if one of us slips up and mentions it in front of someone, they’ll assume we mean an actual paddock.

They work to make him proud and to live by his rules which would see them prepared for all possible scenarios.

The Big One is what Dad has been waiting for. The reason for the bunkers and the supplies, and our constant emergency drills. He’s got dozens of different scenarios planned out and prepared for. Nuclear warfare. Biological weapons. Pandemic. Electromagnetic pulse. Economic collapse leading to martial law, food shortages, riots. He can’t wait to hide smugly in the Paddock while in Jubilee everyone starves or dies of nuclear fallout or whatever.

Yet when an EMP wipes out all the electronics (phones, radios, cars) in town, all the carefully cultivated rules seem to go out the window. The Palmer girls stay active within the town, watching as those around them grow gradually hungrier and more desperate, all while sitting on the secret of their bunker and the supplies within.

It’s good to be a teenager for a while. Not have to worry about life and death and starvation and whether or not we’re doing the right thing by keeping the Paddock a secret. With my eyes closed, I can almost imagine everyone else here, Ana and the other Jubilee teens, laughing and chatting and floating on ridiculous inflatable unicorns and doughnuts.


This is a story about community, paranoia, unhealthy relationships, friendship, family, and coming of age… all while the end of the world seems to be closing in.

There were some annoyances for this reader when it came to this daughter of a prepper so often flying off on a plan without really thinking things through or, you know, preparing, and other things didn’t entirely make sense… such as the fact that the fueling station at the zinc mine only had unleaded petrol, but the Ute needed diesel. This is, presumably, where the semis that transport the zinc from the mine fuel up, and would surely use diesel, so it seems just another way to impart some additional prepper knowledge (that a diesel car will run on unleaded… for a short time) without making much logical sense.

While the characters often make poor choices, and aren’t by any means perfect, the reader is bound to relate to them and cheer them on – personal growth and facing up to your mistakes is definitely explored in this novel.

While the writing in this book isn’t quite so visceral as in the author’s next-most-recent novel, The Boundless Sublime, it is a quick and engaging read and the story as a whole seems to come together a lot better. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future titles by this Melbourne-based author who has turned her hand, with her most recent works, to tackling some interesting and difficult topics.



Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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