Some of you might not know that I’m a NSYA (Not So Young Adult). It’s true and I did it. You know, that thing adults do when they worry about “the kids.” I did it while reading Ashes, by Ilsa J. Bick. I lost myself in reading this story and then somewhere about halfway through, I remembered that I blog for a YA book review site and that I was going to be reviewing it. I began asking myself if I would let my daughter read it and at what age. Then I thought about when I was a YA and read a ton of Robert McCammon books (horror fiction that totally dates me) and one of my very, very favorite books to this day is his novel Swan Song, a post-apocolyptic horror fest, that I still read once a year. That’s when hypocrisy slapped me in the face.
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.
We meet Alex, the main character in Ashes, after she’s left home on a mission. Well, more like a personal quest. Told in third-person limited (a favorite of mine) it didn’t take me long at all to be lost in this very visceral tale. I liked Alex immediately. She has a bit more grit to her than an average 17-year-old. Her life hasn’t been the greatest the past few years and it’s hardened her, justifiably so. Very quickly we get to the big event, the electromagnetic pulse, which is another plus for me. I get irritated when books take too long setting things up. Ms. Bick sets the scene and throws us right into the action and once the action starts, it doesn’t let up.
The reader knows more than the characters at this point, thanks to the summary, but one of the aspects I enjoyed most about Ashes is that the characters don’t figure things out right away. They do what I would assume we would all do, fumble around a bit, put things together based on what we know, and conjecture. Basically they wing it and it makes the drama all the more real. They are lost and don’t have a clue what’s going on, they only have themselves to rely on, and it reads really, really well.
I don’t want to give any spoilers away because I want you to enjoy the mystery, and by “enjoy” I mean be scared out of your mind. This is a pretty frightening book. Alex doesn’t just have her own situation to deal with, she’s got other survivors, those who have “Changed”–and want to eat her–and those who haven’t–whose intentions are questionable at best. Who the true “animals” are is a toss-up, and oh yeah, most of the world is dead. Scary, right?
We do get a bit of a love interest, but this isn’t a romance novel. This is a stark tale about survival and how life can change in an instant and then change again just as fast. The violence is graphic, but not gratuitous. The pain and loss the characters suffer is staggering, but not contrived. Ms. Bick has plotted out her story, and her amazing cast of supporting characters (all of whom have tremendous potential down the road), very carefully. By the time I finished my jaw was hitting my chest and I was desperate for the sequel.
If you feel that you are ready to read a book that deals with a lot of blood and guts and some moral dilemmas that gave even an old bird like me pause then, Young Adult, I say check out Ashes when it’s published by Egmont USA on September 6, 2011. It is the first in a trilogy, so going in you should know that you won’t have all the answers when you finish, but you will be very excited for the next book, and can begin tweetstalking the author like I have demanding hints. Let’s suffer together.