Thirteen-year-old Hannah Steele lives in the Pelling Island community of Elliott Bay, right off the coast of Seattle. On the day she sets out on her first big babysitting assignment – the first one was just while her neighbor, Andrea, ran local errands – a major earthquake hits the Pacific Northwest. Hannah is stranded with her two younger charges, siblings Zoe and Oscar Matlock. And their pet guinea pig, Jupiter. Both kids are injured in the aftermath, and Hannah, who’s asthmatic, left her rescue inhaler at home. With the power out, cell phones down, and rescue uncertain, Hannah has to use all of her mental and physical resources to keep the kids, Jupiter, and herself alive and safe, especially when the Matlock’s house becomes an unsafe shelter.
Narrated by Hannah, The Disaster Days is a tense, consuming page-turner. By taking everything away from Hannah at the outset – adults, internet, cell phones, TV – Rebecca Behrens creates a survival story fraught with peril. The Zoe and Oscar’s home is not safe; food and medical supplies are almost nil; there’s a gas leak in the Matlock home, so Hannah moves the kids to a tent outside, where they narrowly miss an encounter with a bear. Aftershocks can hit at any moment. Hannah doesn’t know the fates of her parents; Zoe and Oscar’s mother, Andrea; or her best friend, Neha, with whom she had an argument minutes before the earthquake. Within the scope of the big disaster, Hannah copes with her world being upended, and the stress of keeping Zoe and Oscar as comfortable – which includes keeping a lot of their situation from them – as possible. She relies on a crank radio and the voice of a newscaster, Beth Kajawa, to get periodic updates that will help guide her decisions. An author’s note at the end touches on earthquakes, post-quake threats like sand volcanoes and liquefaction, and emergency preparedness. Rebecca Behrens’ author website includes free, downloadable resources for parents and educators and links to websites and online resources about earthquake science, and emergency preparedness.
The Disaster Days is reading you, and your readers, will not want to put down. Have readers who like Hatchet or Rodman Philbrick’s The Big Dark? Give them The Disaster Days. This one is a definite must-read, must-have.