Louise Lawrence’s 1985 Children of the Dust is a standalone young-adult nuclear war novel.
It’s nuclear war time and a full-scale nuclear attack on the UK is imminent. Young Sarah’s school can do little for her and her classmates but to send them home. With Sarah’s father Bill still at work and unlikely to return in time, Sarah helps her stepmother Veronica prepare as best they can for the apocalypse. Then Sarah, Veronica, and Sarah’s siblings William and Catherine wait for the inevitable.
The story is told in three sections.
Britain’s cities are scoured with nuclear fire, but the nearest epicentre is distant enough that the quartet survive the exchange. All that they can do now is wait out the fallout, rationing their meagre supplies. until they can emerge from their hasty shelter into whatever remains of the United Kingdom.
Alas, not only were official prognostications about the war helplessly optimistic, the family shelter wasn’t all that well sealed against fallout. Sarah soon realizes that she, Veronica, and William have all received lethal doses of radiation. Catherine, however, was more cautious and better protected. Perhaps she can be saved …
Ophelia knows only the government bunker, one of the last redoubts of advanced civilization. Nuclear winter has come and gone, as has the radiation. Yet a depleted ozone layer means that people like her cannot venture out without risking serious sunburn. Life in the bunker is constrained and regimented, but it’s far better than what waits outside.
There are descendants of survivors living in neighbouring communities. They are short-lived, poor peasants, who can raise just enough food to feed themselves … and to supply the bunker. Not at all willingly. Now the bunker commander has decided to confiscate the peasants’ cows.
Determined to protect the peasants, Ophelia’s father Bill and idealist Dwight Allison set out to warn the peasants. Ophelia accompanies them. She is astonished by what she sees in this outer world of impoverished mutants. She is shocked when she finds out that she has peasant half-siblings.
Ophelia’s son Simon knows that the bunker is doomed. Its stores were large but finite and they are running out. Once the supplies are done, so is the bunker. The last remnant of pre-War civilization will become a powerless, empty shell.
Scouting the regions near the bunker, Simon discovers that while the mutants may be ugly, and their way of life backward beyond compare, they are adapted to the world as it now is. These new people will survive. Can Simon’s people say the same?
There is a beloved family pet. Do not get attached to it.
The first section is the most effective, as we get to see the immediate effects of nuclear war through the eyes of a child. It’s like an even more depressing version of Threads or QED: A Guide to Armageddon because whereas those works focus on adults, the primary victims in Sarah are kids. As one might expect from the nation that gave us The War Game or When the Wind Blows, Sarah does not pull any punches.
Despite her age, Sarah matter of factly accepts that she and her family are almost certainly doomed by forces well beyond their control. In fact, the only issues preventing her from committing suicide are responsibility to her younger siblings and the lack of any means to kill herself. No worries! The fallout will take care of that for her.
I found the rest of the book a disappointment. It’s implausible that humans would mutate fast and thoroughly enough to survive the holocaust. It’s even less plausible that the mutations would include psychic powers, Oh, and fur.
Still, the first third is effective. Recommended as bedtime reading for parents whose children sleep too restfully.
It does not seem to be available from either Barnes & Noble or Chapters-Indigo.