Reading Level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 480 pages
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley
It could happen tomorrow...
A cataclysmic event. An army of "The Changed." Can one teen really survive on her own?
An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky, destroying every electronic device and killing billions. For those spared, it's a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human...
Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the Changed, Alex meets up with Tom—a young army veteran—and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather was killed by the electromagnetic pulse. This improvised family will have to use every ounce of courage they have just to survive.
YA fiction and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. It's kinda like dating someone younger. There are times when I find myself completely enamored with the passionate outlook on love, the carpe diem mentality, and the flirting-with-danger-rules-be-damned approach to life. On the flip side, I often become frustrated & annoyed by the melodramatic outbursts, mercurial disposition, and immature behavior. There are moments when I sense a lack of connection—an inability to relate on a deeper level. It is during these moments that I ponder the decision to give up my cougarish ways and stick to exploring the more grown-up fish in the sea. But then, just as I’m about to whip out the tried & true “It’s Me, Not You” speech, a YA book comes along that seems more mature, darker, and grittier than the rest, and I find myself lured back in with the promise of excitement & adventure.
Ashes is one of those books. In a lot of aspects, it reminded me of Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield, which I totally adored. The writing was engagingly descriptive and the imagery was incredibly vivid (and often gruesome). Ilsa J. Bick held nothing back in her portrayal of the horrors the young protagonists had to face throughout their perilous journey. There was lots of blood & gore as well as fight-for-your-life action. Also, there were many twists, revelations, and an unrelenting assortment of obstacles. If something could go wrong, it did. And whenever the protagonists had the briefest moment of peace, a tsunami-sized wave of trouble came rolling their way.
Out of all the very different characters that were introduced in the book, Alex was definitely the most developed and interesting one. What I really loved about her was how intelligent, determined, strong-willed, and resourceful she was. Her father was a cop who, via numerous camping & hiking trips, taught her how to survive in the wilderness. Thus, when the world pretty much goes to hell, Alex takes all of the knowledge & skills she acquired throughout her childhood and puts it to good use, saving not only herself but also a little girl named Ellie. I really admired that about her.
Speaking of Ellie, she initially reminded me of the traumatic babysitting experiences of my past, when I was bribed & coerced into looking after little Spawns of Satan. Just like those evil brats, she was deceptively cute with her twin pigtails & Hello Kitty backpack until she opened her mouth to reveal the mini-bitch inside. Listen, I don’t normally wish ill-will towards children, but there was a time at the beginning of the book when I crossed my fingers and hoped that either Alex accidentally-on-purpose pushed her off the side of the cliff or that Ellie turned into a zombie and Alex was then forced to shoot her in the face. Ironically, a few chapters further, Ellie did a complete 180 and so did my feelings towards her. She turned into a sweet, lovable kid, who provided several funny, heart-warming, and tear-jerker moments. And I went from wanting her dead to yelling, “You better not let anything happen to Ellie, you hear me Alex!”
And then there was Tom. Sadly, despite being likable, he was never fully fleshed out. I also never connected with his and Alex’s relationship. I understood how & why it formed. After all, they were brought together by scary circumstances, compelled to rely on one another for survival, and forced to take care of a child. Furthermore, as Alex pointed out, the experiences they had to endure transformed the three of them into a sort of family. Nonetheless, even though I felt the sisterly bond that developed between Alex & Ellie, I never felt the romantic bond that developed between Alex & Tom. I don’t really know why…perhaps due to lack of chemistry and Tom’s two-dimensionality.
Unfortunately, I have some more bad news. As much as the first two-thirds of the book totally rocked my world, the last third bored, disappointed, and kinda pissed me off. This was the point in the story in which Alex finds herself in a cult-like town called Rule filled with creepy religious zealots. I actually liked the inclusion of the town because it explored several interesting (and ugly) aspects of human nature, but I hated how Alex changed during her stay there.
She went from being a resilient, mature, tough young woman to a whiny, pliant, self-centered teenager with an attitude problem. I was also disgusted with how quickly she was able to almost completely forget about Tom & Ellie and develop feelings for another guy—someone who she barely talked to and admitted not trusting. Moreover, she kept disapproving of a lot of Rule’s laws, customs, and beliefs, but she did absolutely nothing to challenge them. In fact, she soon started to passively accept them. Now, I recognize that there may very well have been some sort of Stockholm Syndrome thing going on, but Alex’s inaction and drastic behavior change seemed seriously out of character.
Furthermore, way too much time (about 160 pages) was spent in the town and nothing all that exciting happened there until the very end. Actually, those last 10-20 pages luckily managed to win back some of the cool points the book had lost and reminded me of how awesome the story was before the killjoy pit stop at Rule (aka Cult Snoozeville).
So, despite my qualms with a portion of the book, there was a lot that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found the twist on the traditional zombie concept as well as Alex’s special ability to be fascinating and well utilized in the story. Additionally, I am really interested in seeing what happens next and if/how Alex will be reunited with Tom & Ellie. I’m also really hoping Alex goes back to her old self and forgets all about whatshisface lame love interest #2.