At the beginning of Michael Northrop’s Trapped, snow has begun to fall on Tattawa High School. Scotty and his pals, Pete and Jason, know a snow day is impending, and when the inevitable happens, they use the wait for their rides to work on Jason’s shop class labor of love, a go-kart. The three of them expect nothing more than a typical harmless snow day. What actually occurs is anything but. The roads leading into the school are rendered impassable within the hour, trapping not only them, but four other students and a teacher inside. And this is fine, if slightly scary. Until the power goes out. And the emergency generator goes with it. And then the cell towers. And then the structure of the building itself. Within the space of a few days, they’ve become encased in a school so dark and cold that it might as well be a morgue, and not all of them will make it out alive.
Clearly, none of the characters in this novel have had experiences with snow like those we in the South have. If they had, they would have instinctively known that the first sighting of one or two snowflakes means that you pack up for the day, stock up on three weeks worth of milk and bread, lock yourself in your house and play board games by candlelight until the weather lets up about a day later. Then again, if they had, Mr. Northrop would not have had much of a novel to write. Also, compared to people up North, where the story is set, Southerners are snow pansies, which is why the main characters in this story watch a foot of snow fall around their school and think nothing of it. It is also one of the reasons why I found this such a truly frightening story.
Northrop sets up an appropriately somber mood by page two of this disaster novel, letting readers know up front that not everyone’s going to survive this killer snow day. This reminder persists throughout the first chapters of the novel, which, admittedly, quickly grows annoying. In fact, there were several moments where my reader-brain wanted to shout “YES WE KNOW THAT CHARACTERS ARE GOING TO DIE CAN YOU JUST GO AHEAD AND START KILLING THEM ALREADY SO THAT WE CAN READ ABOUT IT PLEASE?” However, this sense of impending doom contributes heavily to the layers of suspense that bear over the characters, and as the story progresses, it only grows. As disaster stories go, this is a realistically rendered narrative. Despite having several chances to take a turn for the sensational—for example, by trapping the two hottest girls in Tattawa High with five teenage boys. You fill in the possible blanks.— the novel makes an effort to depict teens acting as they might act in a similarly disastrous situation. Cliques and social prejudices remain among them. The teens who thrived in the academic or athletic tiers of school hierarchy suddenly find themselves displaced by the previously invisible teens that thrive on survival challenges. Power struggles ensue because of that. These tensions are only heightened by the fact that the teens have no chance to fight them out, verbally or otherwise. By the middle of the novel, they’re stuck a setting where they physically can’t blow up at each other, in a building where a single angry shout can disturb tons of precariously supported snow drifts and bring them crushing down through the weaker points of their school’s structure. If they don’t keep their heads cool, they could be crushed by their own voices. This is what renders Trapped such a gripping novel. It is a novel in which the absence of mundane things—of easily accessed food, of heat to cook it with, of the ability to use a cell phone, of the ability to talk at all—becomes a significant factor in whether a character survives or not. You know what’s more terrifying than knowing you’re likely to die? Waiting for it to happen in a place where you formerly felt safe, but where you’re now frozen and starving and at the mercy of elements that usually don’t get a second thought. That harmless little snowball that you threw at your sister last winter? Now it’s back to kill you, with cousins.
The dialogue in the novel is also believably written, contributing to the credibility of the characters. However, the plot itself seems to lack this same credibility at certain points. Much of the setup of the plot seems to rely on convenient coincidence. How likely is it that a trio of high schoolers would enthusiastically opt to stay at school longer than required, given the free no-work pass that is a snow day? I was even the overachieving nerd daughter of a teacher and I never took up that offer. How likely is it, too, that a teacher, even a crotchety old rebel like the shop teacher in question, would grant students unsupervised after-school access to a room with loads of fun, dangerous power tools in it? Lots of odd little details had to pass for the story in this novel to even happen. The end comes abruptly, too, and though readers are given enough details to figure out what likely happened after the story’s end, it is still unsatisfying that there’s no concrete resolution. It feels like watching the apocalyptic comet smash into Planet Earth without being shown how humanity pulls together and rises from the rubble. For all I know, all the other characters in this novel were never rescued, but rather ran out of food and ate each other before the blizzard ended, which is the sort of conclusion that I automatically jump to when I read a disaster book/watch a disaster movie that features no equivalent of Morgan Freeman trying to convince the viewer on the other side of the screen that humans really are capable of pulling together to do awesomely inspiring things in the face of environmental doom. I don’t believe these things about people unless someone like Morgan Freeman says them. In short, Mr. Northrop, your novel needed some Morgan Freeman in it. Only then would its ending not have been flawed.
Despite its bumps and incomplete end, though, Trapped is a novel worth reading, especially if you’re looking for something to break up your paranormal romance/dystopia/[ insert other YA trend here ] sprees. It’s a fairly quick read, too, despite its seeming length. So the next time you have some unexpected free time, give it a try. Maybe on your next snow day.