Cover image for 96 miles
96 miles
1st ed.
Physical Description:
271 pages ; 22 cm.
Geographic Term:
During a massive blackout in rural Nevada, two brothers struggle to survive without their self-reliance-obsessed dad and without enough water cross the desert for help.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



Dad always said if things get desperate, it's okay to drink the water in the toilet. I never thought it would come to that. I thought I'd sooner die than let one drop of toilet water touch my lips. Yet here I am, kneeling before a porcelain throne, holding a tin mug for scooping in one hand, and my half-gallon canteen in the other. The Lockwood brothers are supposed to be able to survive anything. Their dad, a hardcore believer in self-reliance, has stockpiled enough food and water at their isolated Nevada home to last for months. But when they are robbed of all their supplies during a massive blackout while their dad is out of town, John and Stew must walk 96 miles in the stark desert sun to get help. Along the way, they're forced to question their dad's insistence on self-reliance and ask just what it is that we owe to our neighbors, our kin, and to ourselves. From talented newcomer J. L. Esplin comes this story of survival and determination as two young brothers confront the unpredictability of human nature in the face of desperate circumstances. For fans of Gary Paulsen's classic Hatchet and Lauren Tarshis's bestselling I Survived series, a story of survival and desperation as two young brothers confront the worst in humanity--and themselves.

Author Notes

J. L. ESPLIN grew up with a Secret Service agent father, who was intent on raising self-reliant kids, prepared for any emergency, especially natural disasters. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the edge of town with her husband and kids. 96 Miles is her first novel. When not writing, she enjoys teaching guitar the fun way, traveling to new places, and coming back home to the desert.

Reviews 3

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6--9--Readers who enjoy realistic survival stories will not be able to put down Esplin's debut. An adventurous account of two brothers' 96 mile journey to find help in a post-blackout Nevada desert. A perfect storm of events leads John and Stew to be left home alone during the worst blackout the country has ever known. No one knows what caused it, but the Lockwood brothers thought they had everything they needed to survive. When strangers come and steal their supplies, the brothers are forced to trek to a ranch they know will help them. Filled with survival techniques, danger, and overcoming realistic obstacles, this story will have readers turning pages. A great choice for lovers of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet or Roland Smith's Peak. Survivalists, campers, and scouts will love the authentic techniques the boys use to survive alone in the desert. Esplin paints a comprehensive representation of what a trek like this would be like for middle school readers. VERDICT Rough and rugged, this story will have readers eagerly awaiting what's next for John and Stew. A great addition to any middle or high school collection where survival books circulate well.--Elizabeth Pelayo, St. Charles East High School, IL

Publisher's Weekly Review

Since their mother died, 13-year-old John Lockwood and his 11-year-old brother, Stewart, live in a remote area of the Nevada desert with their father, an avid survivalist who has always insisted his boys be prepared for the worst. After a massive power outage occurs when John's dad is away, the Lockwoods are quickly stripped of everything they've carefully stockpiled. Forced to walk 96 miles in the punishing desert heat and wind to get help, John and Stew encounter siblings Cleverly and Will in an abandoned trailer while scavenging for water. Together, the four of them must endure exhaustion, dehydration, and each other if they hope to survive the grueling journey. Debut novelist Esplin deftly creates a compelling uncertainty through the increasingly dire circumstances that her characters face. The story never drags, due to both the authentic survival tips she sprinkles in--yucca root as a natural detergent--and John's detailed narration, which lets the reader experience this arduous and tension-filled journey firsthand. More than just a harrowing survival story, Esplin offers a richly layered look at the frustrations of sibling rivalry, the depths of family loyalty, and the challenges of forgiveness. Ages 8--12. Agent: Andrea Somberg, Harvey Klinger Literary. (Feb.)

Kirkus Review

Brothers undertake a desperate desert journey during a long-term power outage. While their preparation-obsessed father's out of state on a business trip, leaving 13-year-old John and 11-year-old Stew under the loose supervision of their neighbors, a complete blackout hits. Days pass and it doesn't let up; what little news they hear implies a massive scale. In the opening sequence, readers meet the brothers as they lower themselves to collecting toilet water to drink, as they were recently robbed of their father's entire (extensive) supply stash. They encounter a sister-brother duo, Cleverly and Will, andeven though John knows that they barely have the supplies to make the three-day, 96-mile titular journey to salvationthe brothers decide allowing the other kids to join is what is right to do. Along the journey, they face general hardships of desert hiking with insufficient water as well as human threats. Thankfully, these latter are given conflicting motives, which increases tension. Another conflict source is Stew's defeatist behavior, which is at odds with John's descriptions of himand, in a twist, is revealed to have a very good cause. The story focuses on the themes of the kids' journey, and while the ending provides hope, readers looking for answers to the blackout will be disappointed. The characters default to white, though there's disability representation in the form of characters with Type I diabetes. For readers thirsting for a fresh survival story. (Adventure. 8-13) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.