Mandalay Hawk's Dilemma

Mandalay Hawk's Dilemma

Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States of Anthropocene is a middle-grade novel for our troubled and overheated times, about a young teen who, in 2030, has to save the world from global warming because adults screwed up and didn’t do nearly enough to stop it.

Mandalay Hawk is a cool, calm, sometimes unhinged juvenile delinquent who’s a cross between a race car driver gassing it at 150 mph and a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. striving to overcome.

What she calls civil disobedience, a judge calls a crime. 

It’s a decade in the future and global warming is worse than scientists predicted, truly threatening the world as we know it. The Biiiig Heat is broiling earth. Climate migrants have flooded New York City. Wall Street, under water, is now called New Manhattan Bay. A flash forest fire in the Bronx killed the animals in the Bronx Zoo. A hail storm killed dozens. Floods kill hundreds. Huricanes kill thousands. Food and water shortages are coming to the USA.

The climate strikes a decade ago all failed, because politicians flip-flopped — and so did humankind. People just didn’t want change badly enough. 

Mandalay and her pals start KRAAP - Kids Revolt Against Adult Power.

They battle their parents, a principal and a government (and president) that wants to silence and stop them. They do things the old fashioned way: they study their brains out and ditch social media. There’s a march on Washington unlike any other and then there’s rapping in the Oval Office to a captive president.

When all else fails - KRAAP prevails. There is no choice.

(To read the first chapter, scroll down ... to read reviews, scroll down even further ...)

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The story begins on April 2, 2030, in a small town in Maine.

           Part 1: Getting to Know Mandalay Hawk

           Chapter 1: The storm that lit the fire

     Mandalay could hear and feel the panic in her dad’s crackly voice. His last-ditch effort to get emergency supplies before they evacuated had become a nightmare. Through the phone static, she heard him say he wouldn’t be able to get home, because police had closed the roads.

     There would be no evacuation. Mandalay was stranded alone.

     She stood in her living room, staring out the window, seeing what Mother Nature had unleashed on the coast of Maine: The weather experts called it a MaineCane - the biggest hurricane ever to hit Maine - a category 4 storm expected to pack 150 mile per hour winds and dump more than three feet of rain. Trees in Mandalay’s yard were already snapping like small twigs. Water from the Back River was rising towards the house. And this was just the start.

     Mandalay was 13 and lived alone with her dad, two miles from the closest neighbor.

     Mandalay tried calling her father back. All she got was: “I’m sorry, the number you are trying to reach …”

     She clicked off her ring phone as her house shuttered and shook from the wind. She knew she had little time and only one option, because they didn’t have a basement or a secure room. She needed to build a fort in the back of the living room, away from the window, a fort that would give her a fighting chance of surviving this storm. She was a strong girl from helping her dad chop wood in the backyard. She went to work.

     She pushed and pulled the couch to the back of the room, then dragged the big chair next to it and tipped it over. Then she dragged her desk, her mattress and the coffee and kitchen tables and tipped them over, creating a sturdy perimeter. She pushed and pulled the dining room table and turned it upside down so it formed a roof. She tied a thick rope around the table and shoved the end of it into the fort. She then put on her dad’s rain pants, her heavy boots, gloves and two raincoats and climbed inside and yanked and yanked the table over her head. She didn’t recall ever praying in her life before, but she was now.  

     Within a few minutes, she heard the sharp crack of the living room window, then a howling wind so ear-splittingly loud she could barely hear the glass shattering, the tree limbs smashing through the house and the debris whipping around her.

     She had draped a thick blanket over her head and held onto the rope for dear life - the rope that was holding the table in place despite the ferocious winds, holding onto that rope so that an avalanche of torn branches, cracked glass and broken roof didn’t cascade down on top of her. She held on for hours, focusing on one simple thing, holding that rope so that she could tell her dad how she kicked butt and survived. She then noticed water was creeping up, now covering the lower part of her legs. 

     As the wind howled, she heard more cracking, as if something was splitting open. Then something fell …

     The next thing Mandalay remembered was hearing these words: “Our dog’s got a scent - over here!”

     Moments later, Mandalay heard sloshing water, frantic scraping and digging and an electric saw cutting and shouting “Lift it!” and “We got to get her out!” Then she recalled being pulled from under a pile of branches, beams and a cracked dining room table, which all partially lay under three feet of water from the Back River, the river that flooded Mandalay’s house. But her head miraculously had remained above water, resting on a broken branch. She was soaking wet, chilled to the bone, with a bruised leg and a huge bump on her head, but she was alive. She blinked at the bright light - and realized that she was looking up at the blue sky and bright sun shining through where their roof used to be.

     Then she saw her father.

     “You’ll be ok, darling, I promise, you’ll be ok,” he said, as he burst into tears and hugged her tight.

**** **** ****

     For Mandalay, the next few days were a blur of doctors, nurses and more people telling her how lucky she was than she would have liked.

     You’re lucky to be alive.

     You’re lucky you didn’t drown. 

     You’re lucky you only got a concussion and a bruised ankle.

     Thousands of people died in the storm.

     “How does it feel to be the luckiest girl alive?” a TV reporter asked her. “You were lying under a crumpled roof in flood water for more than 12 hours.”

     Mandalay really wasn’t sure what to say to that. But she knew she wanted to go home and get on with her life.

     When Mandalay left the hospital a week later, on April 9, spring had returned. In 2030, this meant sunny and high 80s, and the cleanup was underway. 

****          ****        ****

     Mandalay’s life returned to something like normal. They had to live with Uncle Jim, her father’s best friend - because they didn’t have a house anymore. But, soon after, she was able to return to school, in a walking cast and after her concussion protocol was lifted. She was an eighth-grader at Nagatoon Regional Junior-Senior High School.  

      The first morning her dad drove her to school it took twice as long as normal because one road had been wiped out by flood waters and a second road was blocked by dozens of downed trees.

     “You know dad ...” Mandalay said, as she looked out the car window at all the damaged houses and buildings. She didn’t finish the sentence, as she shook her head and grimaced.

     “Yeah, what?” he said, as he gave her a quick glance.   

     “I don’t know,” she said, as she continued looking at the flattened buildings and cars turned upside down.

     But she did know. In 6th grade, her teacher gave the class a special assignment, to write 500 words on what they thought was the biggest problem in the world. Each student could pick the problem, research it and write about the problem and how to fix it.

     After talking about it with her dad, Mandalay decided to write about global warming. Mandalay recalled reading an article in Environment Kids that was titled EVERYTHING! The article explained how EVERYTHING! was getting worse because of global warming - more people were dirt poor, more people were starving, more people were getting sick and dying, and just about everything else bad was happening a lot more: more floods, more droughts, more forest fires, and of course, more deadly, sudden, extreme weather, like MaineCanes, which hit even if it wasn’t hurricane season. And, of course, it was hot. They had summer weather, and it was only early spring.

     “Gosh, the world’s a mess,” she wrote. “Something has to be done.” 

     After she handed in her assignment, Mandalay had decided to take a stand. At lunch that day two years ago, she jumped up on the food counter, alongside that day’s hot selection of spaghetti and meatballs, and shouted that everyone had to write to the local congresswoman because “Global warming had to be stopped!” She got so carried away that she didn’t realize her sneaker dipped into the large, metal dish of spaghetti, with dozens of students on line waiting to be served lunch.

     The letter home that day from the principal said:

Dear Mr. Hawk: Although we appreciate Mandalay’s enthusiasm for a cause - even if it is a lost cause - she actually violated a Maine health code today and forced us to have to throw out much of today’s lunch. I informed her that she will have detention after school for a week to think about what she did. Please discuss this with her.

Hubert Bushwick, Principal 

     “Dad, Bushwick’s a bum,” Mandalay told her dad, after he read the letter.

     “I understand you may not like him, sweetheart, but he is your principal and you did step in the spaghetti.”

     Mandalay did her detention, and used the time to write letters to members of Congress. She convinced a dozen classmates to write also.

    The responses they got all seem to say the same thing: That Congress was doing its best.

     But what were they really doing? Mandalay was smart enough to wonder at the time. It was 2028, things were getting worse and not nearly enough was being done to stop global warming, even though it was causing more and more problems around the world. 

     But Mandalay didn’t do anything else. She was in sixth grade, she just went along with the flow.  

     So now it was two years later, and Mandalay was angry with herself - angry because she had waited until a cat 4 MaineCane, the result of global warming, had killed almost 3,000 people in Maine and almost killed her before realizing she’d have to take the next step.


In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it

"A scathing work and an essential blueprint for youth battling climate change."

Publishers Weekly's BookLife Prize awarded it a 10 out of 10 in its review. The book was a quarter finalist in its annual fiction contest, with the reviewer writing: "The novel is well-written in language easily accessible to middle grade readers. Aronson is skilled at keeping the action interesting while still introducing enough of the science to explain the protagonists' concerns and actions."

Readers' Favorite has given Mandalay Hawk's Dilemma three five-star reviews. Here are excerpts:

Reviewed by Francis Mont for Readers' Favorite

"Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States of Anthropocene by Peter Aronson is an extremely important novel, written for middle- grade students but it is equally informative and, most of all, motivational for any age group, from 6-year-old to adults. It deals with climate change as it plays out in the US in 2030, less than a decade from now. It extrapolates existing trends to a completely believable yet horrifying status quo in which the devastation caused by massive storms, flooding, and extremely high temperatures is matched only by the total apathy bordering on boredom by both the citizenry and their leaders as they respond to one weather- related disaster after the other; except for three 14-year-old students, inspired and led by Mandalay Hawk, a determined young girl who wants to save the planet. Learning from the failures of past protests, she wants to do something different on a much larger scale. She has to overcome opposition from parents and teachers at first, then the whole American establishment. Her motto is “failure is not an option.” Will she succeed in her near-impossible quest?

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading this captivating novel. It is very well written; the language is perfectly tailored to the intended audience. Anyone who has had the experience of raising teenage girls (including this narrator) will find both the characters and their psychology completely believable. The pacing is alternating between sensitive descriptions of relationships on one hand and breakneck speed action parts on the other, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. The plot and storyline are ingenious. Mandalay manages to fulfill her aim of doing something never tried before, bold and different that eventually leads to her objective of forcing a confrontation with the powers of the country – small and large. The novel is also a goldmine of information on every aspect of the science and history of climate change, describing how and why we got from current trends to an unbearable near future. I was particularly impressed by the seldom heard, yet unanswerable argument that if the US government could instigate massive changes to all walks of life, both private and business, so the country would be prepared for WW2, why isn’t the same possible today when the country is facing a far more severe existential threat by climate change? In addition to all that, the novel is highly entertaining. I can truly recommend Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States of Anthropocene by Peter Aronson to both young and old alike."


Reviewed by Natalie Soine for Readers' Favorite

"Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States of Anthropocene is a fantastic story that brings to light the effects of climate change and the impact it has on our future. Peter Aronson does a wonderful job of delivering an important message through the brave actions of one young girl. The characters in the novel all bring meaning to the story, including the teachers, parents, and children. The futuristic scenes and locations are made believable by Peter’s writing and by the data and information he provides. If every person would read this book and take heed of the warnings, we could save our planet. All-round a great novel, highly recommended to children and adults. It should be included in the school curriculum in all countries. Well done, Peter Aronson."


Reviewed by Pikasho Deka for Readers' Favorite

"A heartwarming tale of courage, determination, and iron will, Mandalay Hawk's Dilemma: The United States of Anthropocene is as entertaining as it is enlightening. Author Peter Aronson delivers a much-needed poignant message to readers that is becoming increasingly relevant as the days go by. With a fast-moving plot and vibrant characters, Aronson tells a gripping tale of a young teenager trying to fight against the establishment to save humanity and the planet. Mandalay is a riveting protagonist who you can't help but root for. Inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther King and fuelled by a strong will, she never hesitates to fight for what's right. I had an absolute blast reading it. Kids and young adults should definitely give this adventure odyssey a look."


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