Jo Treggiari's Ashes, Ashes is a near-future post-apocalyptic young adult novel (one of many published in the past year or so, but one that I found appealing). Society has been decimated by global weather changes (flooding and droughts), followed by a smallpox epidemic that "reduced the global population to less than 1 percent of what it had been within three short months." 30 to 60-year olds were particularly hard hit, such that most of the survivors of the epidemic are either kids or the elderly.
Sixteen-year-old Lucy is living on her own in a primitive shelter in what was once Central Park. Although she doesn't want to have anything to do with people, she meets a boy named Aidan, and can't help being intrigued by him. When her shelter is threatened, she is forced to join Aidan's small community. But even that safety is fleeting, as Sweepers (armed soldiers in white hazmat suits) invade the community, and start stealing people away. Lucy fears for her personal safety and her autonomy, and she fears the return of the plague.
Treggiari's New York setting is compelling - dramatically different from the New York of today, but bearing reminders of what once was (like the Alice in Wonderland status in Central Park). For example:
"The road was flat for a few hundred yards. Beyond that it dropped off again, but she couldn't tell how far. She walked, watching out for loose rubble. In places the mangled tarmac was marked with a broken white line, but it was no longer straight. It deviated from the middle and twisted suddenly and disappeared. She estimated that she was around Second Avenue and 92nd Street, although acres of road and earth had been shifted in the big quake,the landscape completely reconfigured. Sometimes she thought it looked as if a toddler had built a city out of blocks and then knocked them all down in a rage." (Page 81, ARC).
Occasional flashbacks fill in the details of how the world became so bleak, and how Lucy in particular lost her family. The timing of the book, within a year of drastic events, lends an immediate interest, as opposed to books set long after world-changing events, and will, I think, resonate with today's teens.
Lucy is a well-rounded character - suspicious and scarred by her experiences, but with a core stubbornness that sees her through. I like that her interest in Aidan is reluctant and intermingled with periods of annoyance. Like this (at their first meeting):
"He was looking amused again, and her hand itched to slap him. A little snort of laughter escaped from his mouth. She carefully swiveled her torso so that she was facing away from him ... and she did her best to ignore him." (Page 33, ARC)
I like Aidan, too. And I like that the romantic pull between these characters is a relatively small part of this action-driven story.
The device of having most of the adults killed off so that the teens could be in charge, struck me as a tiny bit contrived (though less so than in many YA books of this genre), and not really necessary. I mean, most everyone was killed off anyway - I think that Lucy and Aiden could have had leadership roles regardless. Still, that's a minor point.
Overall, I enjoyed Treggiari's world-building, plotting, and characterization in Ashes, Ashes. I'd be interested to see another book set in the same world. Recommended, especially for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction (and especially for fans of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It series).
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: June 1, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).