Shortlisted for the Yoto Carnegie Medal 2023 and an award winner in its original Welsh, The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros tells the tale of 14-year-old Dylan, his mother, Rowenna, and baby sister Mona, seemingly the sole survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape. In their isolated house on a Welsh hilltop, with the power grid down and no means of communication, they must learn to live on their wits. Agreeing to keep a journal for posterity, Dylan and Rowenna record their thoughts and memories in this remarkable story of survival and renewal.
Living in what they call the End Days, a ‘nothingness that is everywhere,’ mother and son have spent the past eight years in solitude, with Mona a recent precious addition. The fears of previous generations have been realised; bombs dropping on major cities, and then ‘the world’s most powerful thunder. Something angry possessing the world, something screaming, something dying.’
In the aftermath, Rowenna discovers the local village deserted, aside from a handful of dead residents, wiped out by radiation sickness. Scavenging for tools, plants, and also, intuitively, books from the local library, she prepares for a warrior existence, fighting to create a new life for her kids. At the age of thirty-six, her hair is turning white.
This engrossing tale is told via their journal, the eponymous blue book of Nebo. Rowenna’s account recalls the old days of consumerist society and life as a single mother. Dylan focuses on his unique journey to manhood and the empowering nature of self-sufficiency. Both of them cherish their stockpiled books, the Welsh ones in particular. Having lost so much already, their identity and heritage must be cherished.
Inevitably, both are nursing secrets, the key one concerning Mona. Having perused a scavenged GCSE biology textbook, Dylan realises the truth about human reproduction. If Rowenna hasn’t seen a man in years, where on earth has baby Mona come from?
A compelling and ultimately uplifting read.
The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros is published by Firefly Press, 160 pages.