form / genre: middle grade verse novel; survival story
age range: 10 and up
Megan E. Freeman’s website
This exciting story of tenacity, determination, and ingenuity is hard to put down, and thank heavens nothing happens to the dog.
Madeleine relates her own riveting, immersive story in believable detail, her increasingly sophisticated thoughts, as years pass, sweeping down spare pages in thin lines of verse in this Hatchet for a new age. . . . Suspenseful, fast-paced, and brief enough to engage even reluctant readers.
― Kirkus Reviews
The novel is gripping and the plot fast-paced…This is a tense, engrossing survival story on par with classics such as Hatchet.
Please tell us about your book.
Perfect for fans of Hatchet and the I Survived series, Alone is a harrowing middle grade novel-in-verse from a Pushcart Prize–nominated poet that tells the story of a young girl who wakes up one day to find herself utterly alone in her small Colorado town.
When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.
With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.
As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?
What inspired you to write this story?
When my daughter was in fifth grade, we were in a mother-daughter book club and we read Island of the Blue Dolphins. In the discussion afterward, we talked about how challenging it was for Karana to survive on the island alone, and I started thinking about what it would be like for a contemporary middle school student to find themselves in a similar situation. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, and it became the seed that grew into ALONE.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I had to learn what would happen in a town if all the power went out and how it would affect things like heating and cooling and running water. I talked to an expert who works at a water conservancy district and learned that if an entire power grid shut down, it would also impact the ability to have running water and indoor plumbing, since water management systems depend on electricity to operate. I had to figure out what my main character, Maddie, would do about cleaning and cooking and flushing the toilet when the power goes out and there is no running water.
I also had to research emergency communication plans and learn some of the language that is used in planning for national emergencies. Through online research I was able to find actual federal documents that are used in planning for national emergencies. By reading those documents, I learned terms and phrases and planning strategies that would be used in a real emergency situation.
What are some special challenges associated with paralleling your book with a classic?
In Island of the Blue Dolphins, once Karana’s tribe leaves the island, she has no way to communicate with them. Any interactions she has with other humans happen only when people occasionally come to the island to hunt and fish. But my story is set in the 21st century, so Maddie and her family would have cell phones and telephones and computers and all sorts of ways to communicate with each other. I knew that I had to figure out a way to not only isolate Maddie geographically, but also isolate her technologically, so that she could have no connection to the outside world and the outside world could have no connection to her.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Maddie has to overcome all sorts of challenges, and she has to rely on herself for everything from food to first aid to entertainment to comfort. She essentially has to become her own parent, doctor, chef, consoler, and protector. And all the while, she struggles with wondering if she’s making the right decisions or if she should be doing something differently to try to get out of her situation. Some themes to explore might be perseverance, resilience, family (including divorce and stepfamilies), independence, hope, and fear. Maddie also comforts and entertains herself in many creative ways, inventing games to play alone, reading books, making art, and exploring on hikes and bike rides.
It could be fun in a classroom for students to imagine what they might do if they found themselves in Maddie’s shoes:
- What might be exciting about being all alone in a town?
- What might be frightening?
- Which of Maddie’s choices do you agree with and which ones would you make differently?
- What kind of animal would you want to be stranded with?
Some higher level questions could include:
- Maddie finds a lot of comfort in reading books from the library, and she is surprised to discover that she loves poetry. Why might poetry be comforting during challenging times?
- The poet Emily Dickinson creates a metaphor for hope by comparing it to a bird (“Hope is the thing with feathers”). What other metaphors might describe hope? What are some metaphors that could describe fear, loneliness, perseverance, and love?
- The poet Mary Oliver asks the readers of her poem “The Summer Day” what they will do with their “one wild and precious life.” Why do you think she calls life “wild and precious”? What other adjectives could be used to describe life? How would you answer Mary Oliver’s question?
- Maddie’s feelings about her family are complicated, and they change over the course of the story. How do family dynamics impact a person’s perception of themselves and their place in the world?