Imagine waking up to find yourself completely alone. Your town is abandoned. No family, no friends, no baristas making coffee or postal service workers walking along their morning route. Empty streets, restaurants, schools and homes.
This is the world the young protagonist of local author Megan E. Freeman’s new middle-grade novel ALONE wakes up in, in a fictional Northern Colorado town. With no companion other than a Rottweiler named George, and no power, working phone lines or internet access, 12-year-old Maddie must quickly adapt to her new reality and find a way to survive on her own. Leaning into her own wit and perseverance, Maddie pushes through a rough start to get her footing in an unexplainable and unfathomable situation. She passes the months teaching herself survival skills and learning to trust herself, George by her side, and a book (pulled from her seemingly endless library) often in her hands.
Despite Maddie’s ingenuity and strength, the one thing she can’t seem to overcome is the loneliness of her unexplained abandonment, the monotony of existence without human contact or conversation. The real fight to survive, she starts to realize, is going to be a mental one.
In her debut novel, Freeman explores human resilience and ingenuity in the face of necessity. A survival story more than 10 years in the making, ALONE offers readers the opportunity to question how they might survive in the face of harrowing and dangerous circumstances.
“The idea for this book came from a conversation that I had in a mother-daughter book club I was in with my daughter,” Freeman explains in a recent phone interview. “We had read Scott Odell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, a fictionalized survival story of a young woman left alone on an isolated island, but based on true events. The girls in the book club were really intrigued by the idea of living alone, and were fixated on how hard it would be. And then I thought, ‘Imagine if you came home and the entire city was abandoned? You’d have to figure out how to live and you don’t know if or when someone is coming to rescue you.’ I couldn’t shake that question, and I just started writing.”
Freeman, a Boulder native, brings the beautiful and harsh wilderness of Northern Colorado to life in this compelling story, putting her young heroine in the path of natural disasters, unpredictable weather and hungry wild animals — all frightening but very real staples of Colorado’s environment.
“I started writing in 2009 and finished the draft in 2017,” Freeman says. “In the span of that time, in Colorado, we had floods, fires … I remember so clearly hearing stories out of places like Lyons and Jamestown where they were seeing displaced wild animals in unnatural civilian places. There were so many natural challenges happening while I was writing. It provided me a lot of rich fodder of what my young character might be faced with and have to survive. Then you have the fact that this state is so beautiful, no matter where you are. In the book, Maddie gets a lot of comfort and serenity from the natural beauty of Colorado. It’s a really rich palette from which to set a story.”
Although ALONE is designated as a middle-grade novel, Freeman says she didn’t have an agenda in terms of the readership, nor any specific intentions for what the take-away or lessons might be for the readers.
“I was just fascinated by the questions that had arisen from the bigger question: How do you survive alone? I wrote this book to follow my own curiosity, and explore the creativity that emerged from these questions. All I hope kids get out of it is that it helps make them more voracious readers.”
There are also plenty of Easter eggs Freeman included in ALONE — savvy local readers will recognize elements of Boulder County. Despite the fact that all town and location names in the book are fictionalized, they’re still recognizable Boulder landmarks, whether from the landscape or building descriptions.
While Freeman offers the fun inside opportunity for Colorado readers to recognize parts of their home, ALONE is a story for kids everywhere, offering them the opportunity to step into the shoes of a young survivalist and wonder: How would I survive alone?