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About The Book

Dry meets Hatchet in this thrilling tale of survival following a teen girl who must lead her friends across the country to the safety of her estranged father’s survivalist compound after a mass power failure leaves the country in chaos.

When seventeen-year-old Zara escaped her father’s backwoods survivalist compound five years ago, she traded crossbows and skinning hides for electricity and video games…and tried to forget the tragedy that drove her away.

Until a malware attack on the United States electrical grids cuts off the entire country’s power.

In the wake of the disaster and the chaos that ensues, Zara is forced to call upon skills she thought she’d never use again—and her best bet to survive is to go back to the home she left behind. Drawing upon a resilience she didn’t know she had, Zara leads a growing group of friends on an epic journey across a crumbling country back to her father’s compound, where their only hope for salvation lies.

But with every step she takes, Zara wonders if she truly has what it takes to face her father and the secrets of her past, or if she’d be better off hiding in the dark.

Excerpt

Chapter 1 1
Somebody is going to die tonight.

Preferably, it won’t be me or Gabe. We’ve worked for weeks figuring out how to stay alive, gathering magical items, stocking arrows of all different status types, and cloaking ourselves in armor that will deflect sword points and turn us invisible if necessary. Now we’re waiting to get our hands on the boss ruling over this set of abandoned towers in our unnamed postapocalyptic city.

“You ready?” Gabe asks me over my headset. I flex my fingers, prepping them to dance over my keyboard and punch buttons like they’ve never danced and punched before. My character waits patiently in front of me on the center monitor, her shoulders rising and falling in a way more understated manner than mine would be if I were the one about to put my actual life at risk.

That’s not the only difference between us, of course. She’s tall. Strong. She moves as fast as a whip and says funny, clever things in her smoky voice whenever I give her the command to joke or flirt. Meanwhile, I’m all business. “Ready. Let’s go.”

Gabe is already moving toward the gaping black hole of a door. Gritty sand rises around his character’s combat boots with every step, and the moon shines down on him from overhead, just as it does through my real-life window. “If we can pull this off…,” he says into my ear. It catches me off guard, and I jump a little from surprise, as if he were really standing beside me speaking huskily into my ear. Which he is not, and which he never has, no matter how many times he’s driven me home from school. “It’ll be a realm first. It’ll be worth all those nights of skipping out on my friends to train.”

I give him an unconvincing laugh. “Yeah. I’ve been skipping out on my friends too.”

What friends? he’s polite enough not to say back. It’s hard to lie to someone when your best—and only—friend is their sister. Thank goodness for headphones, or Estella would be rolling her eyes on the other side of their shared bedroom wall right now.

But whatever. We’ve got a boss to kill. I make my character follow his silently, her feet moving so lightly over the dust left behind by a thousand battles that they don’t stir any of it up. That’s our party configuration: Gabe is the warrior who charges in and draws all the attention and the attacks, and I’m the rogue who slinks in behind him and destroys everybody from the dark. Most parties have at least a healer, as well, and we will too, as soon as we can convince Estella to join us.

I direct my character forward, and we disappear into the blackness of the room. I tell Gabe to hold back for a moment so that anything there can show itself before we stumble upon it. In the void I think I can hear my dad’s voice in my ear for a moment. Very smart, playing to your strengths. Though I know it’s in my head, I still jolt, jittery as I am. You’re small and should rely on your speed and your evasiveness, not up-front brute strength.

Those skills were part of the reason I chose to be a rogue in the first place, though much of the reason I love gaming is that I can be anything on that screen. Anything at all.

Besides, who am I kidding? There’s no chance my dad would approve of what I’m doing. I picture him back on the compound my mom and I left him at years ago, a self-sustaining home in the thick of the woods, unmarked on any map. He’s shaking his head at me. Frittering your time away on silly games when there’s a doomsday coming? Can you shoot a bow like your character can? Can you scale the side of a building? Can you creep soundlessly behind your prey before you cut them down? I don’t need to answer him. No. No, you cannot. You’re soft. When doomsday comes, you will fall with all the rest of them.

I realize I’m blinking very fast. “Zara?” Gabe says through my headset. “Are we good?”

“Sorry! Yes!” I send my character rushing forward, and for a while I manage to lose myself in the melee, in the spray of digital blood and the crunch of digital bone. Exhilaration floods hot through me. Gabe cheers in my ear.

“I’ll distract the final guard while you climb up high and attack from above, okay?” he says.

“That’s just what I was about to say.” My character climbs like a spider, digging fingers and toes into almost invisible crevices, and then I settle her on a rafter, where she can peer down on the carnage below. She loads her crossbow. Sets it. Waits. Allows the doubt to creep back in.

Wait. That’s me. You should be exercising more than your fingers, Zara, says my dad, his voice disapproving. Like we used to. Drills with the rising sun. Hunting as that sun beats down on the back of your neck, burning it to a crisp. Falling to bed exhausted and hungry after failing to bag that deer you were hunting, because that is how you learn your lessons.

He wanted what was best for me. I knew that then, and I know that now.

It’s just that his idea of what was best for me was different from the rest of the world’s.

I refocus on the game as the final guard between us and the boss’s chamber lets out a loud roar and charges at Gabe. The guard is almost a boss himself, with impenetrable silver armor covered in swirls of browning blood from his many kills. This is where every party has been wiping so far, because they didn’t notice what we have: the opening in the shoulder of his plate. His only weakness. Since he’s so tall, Gabe and I knew we couldn’t hit that spot from below. Someone would need to climb up high. Someone who has skill with a crossbow.

Gabe’s sword meets the guard’s with a clang and a grunt. I twitch my finger. Thwip.

The guard roars again, only this time it’s in pain. His fingers scrabble at his shoulder, but it’s too late. My arrow landed smack in the middle of his weak spot, and his armor is crumbling, falling off him as fine bits of ash. “Yessss,” I hiss into the headset. “It worked.” Now that his armor is gone, Gabe makes quick work of him, me contributing with arrows to stun and poison from above. When I leap down, a distance that would in real life potentially break an ankle but in the game just takes away a few hit points, he gives me a high five.

“It’s finally time,” I say. Electricity courses through me.

His character gives me a bow. “You do the honor.”

I trot forward, door key—which was a whole other quest to obtain—in my hand. My heart thumps. My fingers tingle. The door flies open and the boss cries out. We lunge in, ready to do battle, and—

Everything goes black.

About The Author

Photograph by Cassie Gonzales

Amanda Panitch spent most of her childhood telling stories to her four younger siblings, trying both to make them laugh and scare them too much to sleep. Now she lives in New York City, where she writes dark, funny stories for teens, kids, and the pigeons that nest on her apartment balcony. You can find her online at her website, AmandaPanitch.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @AmandaPanitch.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (April 12, 2022)
  • Length: 448 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534466319
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99
  • Lexile ® HL740L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

This absorbing survival story shows what could happen if the entire United States lost power.

 

Seventeen-year-old Zara grew up in a "self-sustaining home in the thick of the woods" in New York with her doomsday-prepping parents, until she and her mother fled to civilization in Los Angeles. So when a nationwide blackout occurs, survival tactics Zara learned earlier immediately kick in. Amid the ensuing chaos, the only person she can find is her best friend's brother, Gabe, and the two set out to find their families and travel cross-country to Zara's apocalypse-proof off-the-grid homestead. With supplies in short demand and the real reason she left the compound haunting her, the journey isn't easy, but Zara looks to her past to help pave a path for her future.

 

Gone Dark by Amanda Panitch (The Trouble with Good Ideas) is a complex look at mental and physical abuse, the treatment of marginalized people and the way it all manifests during a large-scale catastrophe. Zara's instincts are often in the form of her dad's admonishing voice in her head, telling her to be "ruthless" and that "survival is about the individual," but Panitch skillfully uses Zara's physical and emotional journey to show the importance of teamwork and that "it's okay not to be okay all the time." Panitch also deftly shines a light on what it's like for disadvantaged groups during a disastrous event with "safe" communities created by "men's rights" fanatics and chronically sick people left for dead. An all-too-real and enthralling novel. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader.

 

– Shelf Awareness, 04/29/2022

Panitch (The Trouble with Good Ideas) paints an apocalyptic psychological thriller as death, faith, love, and friendship collide in a high-stakes battle for survival. Seventeen-year-old Zara Ross, cued as white, has spent almost seven years burying memories of her family’s past. Though her current hobby is gaming with Gabe Ramirez, the older brother of her best friend Estella (who both cue as Latinx), she was raised in a compound, the daughter of an isolationist doomsday prepper, taught to set traps, use a crossbow, and trust no one. When a hacker attack wipes out electric power across the U.S., civilization devolves into chaos, and Zara realizes that her father’s lessons are the only thing keeping her safe. With a ragtag group of teenagers, she treks east to the perceived safety of her father’s compound. Zara must confront not just what has become of humankind but what’s waiting for her at the end of her journey and the impossible choices that thread the needle between death and survival. Though the plot moves a bit slow for the urgent action, Panitch pulls no punches in this evocative portrayal of a modern-day apocalypse. Ages 12–up. Agent: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House. (Apr.)

– Publishers Weekly, 4/18/2022

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