Finding the right location for ABOVE, as with any story, was pivotal. Right off the bat, I knew I wanted home base to be a small town, and Eudora, Kansas (where my husband grew up), was the perfect model. While much of ABOVE centers on the captivity of an abducted teenager, this is principally a story about resiliency and determination, about fighting off menacing forces, unseen forces. The specific place where Blythe Hallowell was to be kept had to take on the dimensions of some of those forces which meant it couldn’t be a shed or a cellar or a tent out in the woods; it had to be something beastly, something bizarre. When my husband mentioned that the Midwest is home to many World War II-era nuclear missile silos, I researched the matter and was stunned at the images I found. Decommissioned shortly after they were built in the early 1960s, these underground engineering marvels are now some of the spookiest places in the world. While many remain abandoned, flooded and inaccessible, a few have been snapped up by private citizens and turned into novelty homes or survival bunkers. The Atlas-F missile silo where Blythe is trapped is like an inverted, gutted skyscraper plunging so deep into the earth that at different descents there are different weather conditions. Nothing on the surface suggests the vast menace below. No longer housing a missile, the silo has been stocked for waiting out the apocalypse and for seeding the New World. Its haunting corridors, frightening depths and secret stockpiles add insight into the mindset of a survivalist gone too far, but also serve as characteristics of an indomitable foe.
Seeing the pictures of those eerie silos, I could easily imagine the effects of being cut off from sunlight and soft prairie breezes, how swiftly the silence would cave in on Blythe, how the terrified voices inside her head would echo through the steel chambers and come back to her as taunts. The silo very quickly metastasizes from a dungeon to a menacing accomplice. Every time the fluorescent lights snap off, it opens up its long slick throat, gulping. Blythe must find a way to escape and protect herself from her captor’s insanity, but she must also fight to keep from being devoured. When she has to raise a child underground, she has to employ all her wits to subdue the beast, and to find room in its bowels for a playground. Reinventing the truth of their circumstances and repurposing the place where they are kept are last chances to find hope and freedom.
* * *
Blythe Hallowell is sixteen when she is abducted by a survivalist and locked away in an abandoned missile silo in Eudora, Kansas. At first, she focuses frantically on finding a way out, until the harrowing truth of her new existence settles in—the crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of a captor who believes he is saving her from the end of the world, and the persistent temptation to give up. But nothing prepares Blythe for the burden of raising a child in confinement. Determined to give the boy everything she has lost, she pushes aside the truth about a world he may never see for a myth that just might give meaning to their lives below ground. Years later, their lives are ambushed by an event at once promising and devastating. As Blythe’s dream of going home hangs in the balance, she faces the ultimate choice—between survival and freedom.
ABOVE is a riveting tale of resilience in which “stunning” (Daily Beast) new literary voice Isla Morley compels us to imagine what we would do if everything we had ever known was taken away. Like the bestselling authors of Room and The Lovely Bones before her, Morley explores the unthinkable with haunting detail and tenderly depicts our boundless capacity for hope.