Monument 14: Sky on Fire is the sequel to Monument 14 (reviewed here), in which a group of 14 kids end up living in a big department store after a series of apocalyptic events. A third book is due out next May. Sky on Fire begins immediately after the end of Monument 14 (stop here if you don't want spoilers for the first book).
The narration alternates, chapter by chapter, between sixteen-year-old Dean and his thirteen-year-old brother Alex. Alex is on the school bus that brought the kids to safety in the store in the first place, together with seven of the other kids. They're on a quest to travel 67 miles to Denver International Airport, where they believe there may be government evacuations to safer locations. The journey is quite dangerous for the kids, because exposure to toxins in the air will cause terrible side effects. These vary according to each person's blood type. The kids have gas masks and multi-layered clothing, but don't know whether or not this will be enough.
Meanwhile Dean has stayed behind in the Greenway store with his crush, Astrid (who is pregnant), and three of the littler kids (including the absolutely adorable five-year-old twins Henry and Caroline). Former big man on campus Jake (father of Astrid's baby) is missing, having gone for help and never returned. Dean and Astrid have to contend with people attempting to break into the store, and with taking care of the smaller children. They've stayed, in part, because Dean, Astrid, and eight-year-old Chloe are all Type O, and react with extreme violence (towards everyone) when exposed to the air outside.
I must admit that I had to pause mid-way through in my reading of this book, asking myself "Can't these kids ever get a break?". Because this is a pretty bleak book, and bad things just keep on happening. Despite some dark events, the first book also had a certain sense of fun - the idea of being trapped in a big department store, with no adult supervision is cool. But the idea of traipsing through a hostile post-apocalyptic landscape in which the people who are still alive will kill you for your water bottles, well, it's not as appealing.
Sky on Fire is compelling, however. Laybourne uses the alternating narration to ratchet up the suspense. The kids on the bus receive information from someone on the way suggesting that the airport isn't safe after all, and they (and the reader) don't know what to believe. There are interpersonal tensions, particularly between Astrid and Dean, and there is personal growth on the part of several characters.
There's also growth in the general relationship between the kids. It becomes clear in Sky on Fire how much these kids have bonded into a family. Not an idealized family with no tensions, but a family that is loyal to one another above any outsiders.
I particularly enjoyed Alex's intelligent voice. Like this:
"If we two were the two last people on earth--not, by the way, as statistically implausible as it was a month ago--she would still be rude to me and I would still pretend that it didn't bother me." (Page 45)
And Dean's more poetic voice. Like this:
"Was it wrong to feel a heart-spike of happiness in the middle of the Apocalypse?" (Page 97)
Because what they were experiencing was so different, I never found the two first-person voices confusing.
For the second book of what appears to be a trilogy, Monument 14: Sky on Fire wraps things up quite well. It's suspenseful, and has emotional impact. Despite many loose ends being tied up, there are still questions left unanswered, large and small. I am eager for the next book. Recommended!
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased on Kindle
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