The Big Dark


What makes you feel safe? Who do you believe? 

It’s New Year’s Eve in Harmony, New Hampshire and Ben and his best friend, Gronk, are about to set off a bunch of cherry bombs to make things interesting. Everyone in town has gathered to watch nature’s version of fireworks. Turns out nature is making it plenty interesting all on its own. The aurora borealis has swung south and the colors in the night sky are shifting and glowing and bringing a lot of oohs and aahs from the onlookers.

Then, without a hint of warning, the world goes dark. We’re talking all the lights go out and none of the cars will start. The generators don’t work and even the batteries in the flashlights won’t respond. It’s dark. It’s winter. It’s cold. 

What happened? Maybe the school science teacher has an explanation. How long will it last? No one knows. What is being done to fix it? No fixing happening in Harmony but maybe somewhere the government is working on it. How will Ben, his smarty sister Becca, his mother and everyone else in their community heat their homes, get food, even have enough medicine to survive?

In a world where the firewood you have stacked, the food you have stored, the medicine you have in the cabinet is all you have now and all you will have for who knows how long, how desperate would you be?

Turns out when the world goes dark there are two possible leaders in Harmony. One is the part-time volunteer police officer who also happens to be the school custodian. The other is Webster Bragg along with his sons all of whom live in a compound of their own making. The Bragg women stay inside the walls never to be seen while the men sling their rifles around like they are at war with the world. Now they’re making war on Harmony.

The main character in this story is fear. What would you be afraid of? How afraid would you get? Afraid enough to believe the worst about your neighbors? Afraid enough to follow the loudest, brashest voice? What would you be willing to stand up for when it looked like you might stand alone?

This would be a fabulous discussion book for grades 5-8.

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


Set in a small town in New Hampshire, The Big Dark tells the story of an electromagnetic pulse so strong that it knocked out all  power, including batteries. How will humans react when suddenly faced with a world that seems so different? A world without heat? A world without wi-fi?

Facing the remaining  months of winter, the town must cut enough wood to keep the fires going.  Conspiracy theorist and local loudmouth U.S. government hating  compound owner  Webster Bragg has his own ideas how to handle the outage. He feels like survival of the fittest. Why waste good food and good fire wood for  old or sick people? He plans to take care of his compound and hoard weapons and goods. He's sure the government caused the black out and he says he knows for a fact that there is no more government  left.

School janitor and part time volunteer police officer Reggie Kingman takes his duties seriously. He is able to calm the crowds and helps to silence Bragg. When their only grocery store burns down, the townspeople are distraught. All this hardship and now no groceries?

A medical emergency forces Charlie Cobb to risk his own life by heading to a nearby town to find medical supplies.

Philbrick makes dystopian fiction approachable for middle grades in The Big Dark. Similar to Bick's Ashes and Stephen King's The Dome, the townspeople drive the plot. There is a good versus evil fight and issues are  raised for book clubs to debate.

The Big Dark is likely to earn Philbrick many state recognition lists  and possibly another coveted Newbery Honor.

A quick read (178 pages) for reluctant readers. This book is available on Scholastic Book Fairs and at Scholastic warehouses. Recommended grade 4-up.

9780545789752  Ages 9-13  178 pages

Recommended by:  Pamela Thompson,  Library Media Specialist, Texas USA

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