H. M. Waugh, Evacuation Road, Rhiza Press, August 2021, 268 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 978176111035
There’s a point where the volume of wrong in the world can overwhelm you. And it’s then that fear wins. Evil wins, good is lost, and so are you. You can’t give in to the darkness that hovers if you want to stay sane. You need to keep smiling, trying, hoping, trusting. Loving. Because that’s what makes us human.
Be aware of the following trigger warnings for more sensitive readers: gun violence; assault; drug addiction; violent death (there’s a scene where they witness a passenger plane being shot down from the air and sections and parts, both metallic and horrifyingly not, rained down on the pale desert and bounced across the road).
Evacuation Road is a cracking good read!
Eva is on a geology school excursion in South America when the world’s banks collapse, money becomes scarce, and the world descends into chaos and anarchy. Her evacuation bus leaves without her, and together with two other students she barely knows, she has to find a way to catch it up, and board the last plane destined for home. (The reader will have to suspend disbelief here, because I don’t believe any teacher would leave three of their students stranded in a foreign country!) They join forces with two young English students as they desperately try to find a way to traverse a continent where all the old rules have disappeared, and panic has taken over.
Character development has not been sacrificed for a fast plot. As Eva and her friends face obstacles, the reader observes them growing and discovering their strengths. There is a strong message that sticking together and supporting your friends is paramount – in this case, it can save your life!
An inconvenient crush adds a further complication to an already messy situation, but it’s also relatable to the intended young adult audience and is handled sweetly. When Brodie offers Eva friendship, her reaction is perfect: “Thanks Brodie.” I stumbled over his name. It was the first time I’d said it out loud. It felt delicious, and being with him in that moment seemed like Tim Tams dipped in Milo on a stormy night. Pretty cute, right?
HM Waugh uses her own travel experiences in South America to add a sense of authenticity. Her love of wild places is apparent in the descriptions of the landscape: The stars were so close and sharp, I felt I could touch them. A couple of times I tried, just to prove I was still on Earth, not wrapped in some jewel-studded black velvet dream among the galaxies.
The chapters are short, with many finishing on a cliff-hanger, ensuring the reader feels impelled to read ‘just one more chapter’. This book would be perfect for reluctant readers who think ‘reading is boring’. In fact, I think this would be an excellent class text. The Teaching Notes provide plenty of questions for discussion.
Reading Level as recommended by publisher: 13+ years
Reviewed by Gaby Meares