Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Genre: Dystopian, Teen/YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Alex is hiking in the woods, trying to get away from the world and deal with her own personal crisis: the knowledge that the tumor in her brain is eating her alive. During her hike, she comes across Ellie, a young girl, and they experience something very strange – an electromagnetic pulse that fries all of their electronic equipment. Alex and Ellie soon learn that the EMP has affected more than just their equipment, though – people are acting strangely, and Alex begins to wonder if she and Ellie are the only ones unaffected when she encounters Tom, a former soldier. Together, Tom, Alex, and Ellie try to make sense of the new world around them and learn how to survive.
Ashes is the newest book to be hyped up in the YA dystopian wave, and for good reason – it is unique and very well written. The novel presents a different look at the traditional YA dystopian tale; when the book begins, the world is the same as the one we inhabit now. There’s no question of how the world we are in has become what we see in the book because the reader gets to witness that world-changing event that brings about the horror of the new world order. This makes Ashes unique and gives the reader an entirely different perspective for this novel.
Alex is an engaging teenager that readers will sympathize with. When the book begins, she is ready to die, but after the EMP, she finds herself changed. She has a new lease on life, and is determined not only to survive, but to protect those she has come to care about. Alex has much more patience than I do; I’ll admit that I kept hoping she’d leave Ellie behind, just because the young girl is so difficult and frustrating. But Alex sticks with Ellie, and is rewarded with her trust and warmth. This is a great example of Alex’s loyalty; she will go to any length to help those around her, but at the same time, she isn’t a paragon of virtue. She realizes she is in a horrible situation, that the world has become an unrecognizable nightmare scenario, and that difficult choices must be made. Alex never strays over that invisible line, though, and holds others to that same standard.
The world that Bick has created in Ashes is frightening, to say the least. While the EMP is drastic, the world does start out as our own, and it is terrifying to think that a single terrorist action could turn the world into the one in this book. My stomach was turning while reading it, and if I had read it late at night, it would have given me nightmares. That’s not to say it’s scary, because it isn’t. It’s more the disturbing nature of this world and the “changed” that really got under my skin.
Ashes is a worthy addition to the growing genre of YA dystopian literature. Bick doesn’t use a formula and I appreciated how realistic she made the novel. Alex doesn’t think about love because she’s too busy trying to survive. At the same time, though, it’s present in the back of her mind. I loved this depth, especially because it mirrored how people would actually act, and it’s present in many different aspects of the novel. If you’re a fan of dystopian novels, I highly recommend Ashes; even if you’re tired of this genre, this book presents something different.