“Always be ready for the worst day of your life” is the mantra in Bethany Mangle’s debut YA novel Prepped. The story begins with Becca Aldaine, an 18 year-old wanting to escape her family of doomsday preppers, being forced to jump into an arctic-temperature lake and survive for ten minutes. This cold opening, no pun intended, gripped me and I immediately felt invested in the story.
Until I read Prepped, I had never read a novel about doomsday preppers, let alone one set in present day. Becca’s family and their fellow preppers live in a community separate from the rest of their town. Becca goes to public school, and has secretly applied to a university across the country in order to escape her family and their doomsday ways.
Becca cares for her younger sister, Katie, who is too young to be included in the doomsday trainings at first. As Becca is clearly the least favored of her parents, both of whom grew up in this same community started by their parents, much of the responsibility falls to her to display leadership during the trainings, and set a good example for Katie.
From the beginning of the book, it is evident that Becca cares for Katie more than anything, and wants to protect and shelter her from the world her parents have created. As an older sister myself, I can relate to the feelings Becca has about wanting to love and protect Katie against all of the bad things in the world. I would never want my sister to have to pull someone from a burning building, simulation or not! We also learn that Becca has been part of an arranged marriage of sorts, being paired with a boy in the community named Roy. Their parents arranged their relationship, of course, but Becca always resented Roy. Until she didn’t.
When an unforeseeable accident happens to Becca’s father, everything changes and it leaves Becca questioning everything she thought she knew. She questions her feelings about her family, and each of her relationships. She turns to Roy, who she is surprised to learn shares her same views of the community. The two begin to have real feelings for each other, even amidst the uncertainty of their station among the community.
Perhaps the turning point for Becca is when younger children are included in the doomsday trainings, including her sister Katie. Wanting to protest this, it throws Becca into overdrive. She and Roy begin spending all of their time together, and as they do so, a plan begins to take shape. You know what wasn’t in their blueprint? FALLING IN LOVE! The more time Roy and Becca spend together, and the longer they plot, the more they realize they genuinely like each other, in spite of the arranged relationship forced by their parents.
As they continue spending time together, Roy and Becca become unlikely friends with a classmate, Sydney, and she was by far my favorite character. Where Becca feels trapped, Sydney is the portrait of teen freedom and rebellion: everything Becca wishes she could emulate. As they all begin to spend more time together, in secret from Becca and Roy’s families of course, the confidence Sydney exudes allows Becca to become more confident in herself, and even finding appreciation for her unique personality. Who doesn’t need a strong, female friend in their life?! We love to see the confidence grow in Becca.
All in all, I really appreciated the fast-paced, realistic way this story was written. It felt like a combination of fiction and non-fiction, thriller, and romance. I liked that the ending did not tie everything up into a neat bow; it didn’t need to. I did not realize I had been holding my breath during the last two chapters, but when I read the final word I exhaled a long-held sigh.
On a personal note, a funny thing happened when I finished this book. An ice storm hit Texas and left me without power, heat, electricity, and water. During a global pandemic. My mind immediately flew to how Becca’s community would be handling it, giving me a brand new perspective on the book itself.
I had a few things I knew the characters would have: hiking boots, first aid kit, heavy coat, and a backpack, but that is where the list ends. I did not have enough groceries that were non-perishable, nor did I have enough water.
Throughout the week, I found myself thinking:
“Should I get a bunker?”
“What would I need to put in it?”
“I wish I had a bunker right now.”
“I wish Becca and Roy were here, they would know what to do.”
Now that I am safe and have power and water again, I can say that the entire experience left me wanting to commit to a life of doomsday prepping, and it was only one week of chaos. It had me imagining every worst-case scenario, much like the adults in this novel do on a daily basis. I imagined it consuming all of my time and energy, though I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable throwing children in a lake to literally sink or swim.
Maybe, like so much else in life, there is a happy medium. Moving forward, I will incorporate a few doomsday prepper tendencies into my life to become better prepared, but, like Becca, I will not let it consume me.
Despite growing up in a different way and not being a doomsday prepper myself, I found Mangle’s characters extremely relatable. I remember the feeling of being a teenager and ready to leave my hometown. I remember sneaking out at night and getting drunk with friends. Some things are just universal, and Bethany Mangle gets it exactly right, despite it being a uniquely specific setting. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy YA, are looking for a story unlike any other, or are seeking an adventure. You won’t regret it!
By Bethany Mangle
307 pages. 2021.