Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Title: Ashes, Ashes
Author: Jo Treggiari
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: June 1, 2011 
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:  This cover screams Dystopia.  The ruined buildings and rising waters do an excellent job of introducing the reader to the ruined world that Jo Treggiari has created for her characters.  I was a little disappointed at the portrayal of Lucy.  Another version of this cover showed her in the hoodie and leather jacket that she wears for most of the novel and I much prefer that to the pristine white tank top that she dons in this version.  I also wish that the cover model had Lucy's curly, unruly hair rather than the slightly wavy hair that is featured.  For all the complaining that Lucy does about her hair, I would think it is an important feature.

The Gist:  Lucy is struggling to survive the post-apocalyptic world.  Plague, floods and droughts have ravaged the human population and taken away everyone that Lucy loves.  On the run for her life, she encounters the mysterious Aiden and is forced to consider whether or not she is willing to open her life to another human being.  Forced from her makeshift home, Lucy is sent on the run and discovers that the threat from the Sweepers scouring the land is more real to her than she ever imagined.

Review:  Ashes, Ashes presents a wonderfully terrifying wilderness where dangers lurk around every corner.  Here we meet Lucy, a typical American teenager, struggling to survive with her meager supplies and the skills she has gleaned from a survival handbook.  I was behind Lucy 100% and watched with fascination as she went about her daily routine to find food, maintain her shelter and stay warm enough in order to wake up and do it all over again.  When she encounters Aiden, the first human being she has seen in months, we see the first tendrils of a crush wrap themselves around Lucy's heart.  However, our little survivalist will not let these new-found emotions distract her from the task of living.  This is a dystopian adventure with just a smattering of romance and this fact keeps it appropriate for a young audience and allows it to appeal to teen boys as well.  
The characters are real and relatable.  I found the camp life to be interesting and loved the no-nonsense approach of Grammalie Rose.  Here we get to learn about the Sa'an or plague survivors who remain marked and social pariahs.  There was a considerable amount of time spend here developing the world building aspect of the novel, which would have been understandable if this were the first in a series, but to my knowledge, this is a stand-alone.  As it was, these sections slowed down the action and dampened the sense of urgency that our time alone with Lucy had created.  We learn about the threat to the remaining humans fairly early on, however, it takes a great deal of time for the characters to decide to do something about it.  

Once action has been decided upon, things happen almost entirely too quickly and then suddenly slow to a near stop.  This is where the novel started to fall apart for me.  The pacing seemed off and the reactions of the characters were questionable.  The fight scenes were extremely odd, with moments of action followed by moments of standing around - talking or preparing - then back to action, over and over again.  In the end, I was left with more questions than answers and was, ultimately, unsatisfied.  

Jo Treggiari's world building is spot-on.  She creates a realistic and terrifying world and a group of people willing to face it head on.  While the plot fell apart for me, I do believe it will appeal to fans of post-apocalyptic novels. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 12 and up
Gender: Either
Sex: None
Violence: Plague, Dog Attacks, Stun Guns, Knifeplay
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse:  None


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