Notice: All forms on this website are temporarily down for maintenance. You will not be able to complete a form to request information or a resource. We apologize for any inconvenience and will reactivate the forms as soon as possible.

96 Miles

96 miles book review


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

After the power grid goes down and thieves steal everything they have, young John and Stew Lockwood have no choice. They must walk 96 miles across blazing Arizona desert in three days … or die trying.

Plot Summary

The Lockwood brothers come from hardy stock.

Their single dad, Jim, is a man with a survivalist mindset. He’s taught the boys how to piece together lifesaving necessities from what little is at hand. And he’s stored up supplies that would last the three of them at least 6 months.

So, when Jim once more has to leave home for business, he leaves feeling confident that 13-year-old John and 11-year-old Stew can handle themselves like men.

What Jim doesn’t take into account is that while he’s gone, the whole world will fall apart.

At least that’s what it feels like. The power grid goes black. Stew is convinced that it’s a nationwide zombie attack, though John is not so sure. But one thing they are sure about: The power is out everywhere, and with that, everything else soon follows, including fuel, food and water.

Wherever Dad may be, it appears he can’t get back. The states have all closed their borders. Three weeks in, the world is in chaos.  Common decency quickly takes a backseat to raw panic. Men drive up to the Lockwood home, hold the boys at gunpoint and steal everything they have. They take the large tanks of water; nearly all the food; the fuel; the generator. And they take the medicine. That last one is crucial.

John realizes that sitting and waiting for Dad to return is no longer an option. They have three days at best to find relief. The Brighton Ranch—a tortoise farm run by fellow survivalists—is the best bet. Problem is, it’s 96 miles away. 96 miles of barren empty highway spanning barren, blazing Arizona desert.

That’s more than 30 miles on foot per day … fueled by a few scraps of jerky and a couple canteens of water scooped out of a toilet.

Christian Beliefs

There are no direct references to Christian faith, but there are examples of Christian ideals. When the boys come upon a teen girl named Cleverly and her much-younger brother Will, it’s obvious that the two are alone and ill prepared. John initially wants to keep pressing forward to protect Stew and not worry about protecting them, too. But Stew points out that their dad would find a way to do both. And so, John shares what little they have and gets Cleverly and Will to come along to Brighton Ranch.

There are other examples of people giving to and caring for others in dire need, while some selfishly steal from the less fortunate or defenseless.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

John actually takes on the most prominent authority role in this story, giving his all to help the other kids and shouldering the burden of helping them survive. On several occasions he denies himself water and food so others can have it, and he takes on yet more burdens.

The Yardleys, a husband and pregnant wife who live a mile or two down the street, also do what they can to help the boys. But as their baby’s due date approaches, they must use what little fuel they have to get mom and baby to safety.

At first, nearby town officials attempt to control the situation and care for the community’s needs. But their ability to maintain stability quickly falls apart. And overheard radio reports make it appear that the federal government’s ability to help has crumbled as well.

This story certainly points out to young readers that working toward emergency preparedness is an important necessity, no matter how small your efforts.

Profanity & Violence

People are called a “jerk” and a “moron.” The word “crap” is used several times. There’s a bit of potty humor. (For example, the kids boil and drink water they scoop out of a toilet bowl and talk of being members of a special club. “Urine the club,” one jokingly says.)

Someone in this story is a diabetic and in dire need of insulin. We hear of how the lack of that drug, and an abundance of sugar in the bloodstream, debilitates a diabetic’s body. And we see that process firsthand. After enduring bloodying physical exertion and fights, John swallows a couple of aspirin.

John, Stew, Cleverly and Will take a grueling journey filled with constant peril. They lack the necessary food and water. They’re lashed by wind and beaten down by heat. Soon, all four are weakened to the point of staggering on the desert roadways,  bruised and bloodied by their exertions. John and Stew are forced to their knees with a pistol at their temples as thieves take vital supplies. Later, another adult points a rifle at John and takes his canteen.

John and Cleverly attempt to retrieve water from the thieves who stole their supplies. In the course of that, they slash the tires on three of the thieves’ vehicles and steal the fourth. While hotwiring that truck, John’s slashes his own hand open and bleeds profusely. He’s grabbed by the throat and punched in the face. Later, a teen threateningly points a rifle at John and the two wrestle and pound at each other.

John has occasional panic attacks brought on by intensely fearful moments and extreme stress. The kids talk about the possibility of a brain-eating zombie attack.

Sexual Content

John and Cleverly are about the same age (13), and though they are at odds at first, the two eventually come to rely and care for one another. John realizes that he is having a flushed reaction when the pretty Cleverly calls his name. And he holds her hand on one occasion.

Discussion Topics

Have you ever been in a really scary situation? How did you handle it? Do you have people you can turn to and rely on when bad things happen? How can you help others when things are bad?

Take a look at Proverbs 3:4-6 and James 1:2-4. Do you think that these and other Bible verses can actually help when you’re in the midst of real-world difficult situations?

John and Stew’s dad really believed in being prepared for an emergency. Do you think that’s important for us to think about? How has your family prepared for different emergencies? Are there ways you can help?

John and Stew also learned some survival techniques from their dad. Are there any techniques that you think might be helpful to learn? How would you do that?

Get free discussion question for books at

Additional Comments

J.L. Esplin’s first novel is an award-winner that challenges young readers to think about survival and wise, self-sacrificial choices in an emergency. It’s a tense and perilous character-driven story, and very well crafted.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose