Rating: 5 stars
“Ashes” by Ilsa J. Bick is a book one should think very carefully about beginning. After all, finding time to read a 465 page book without stopping might be difficult.
But it’s guaranteed to be worth your while. Absolutely.
During the first chapter, the reader is grabbed by the neck and shoved face-first into the horrifying, desperate future after a world-wide disaster. Alex leaves her home on the North Shore of Chicago, Illinois, and journeys to the Waucamaw Wilderness in Michigan (the west part above Wisconsin).
After a phone conversation with her aunt, who has been her guardian since the death of both her parents, Alex hangs up the phone. And the first chapter ends with the words:
“And they never spoke to each other again.”
The future after a world-wide holocaust is not a pretty one. And in this world, after an electromagnetic pulse destroys civilization, some of the people have changed into something not human — something feral and deadly. The best comparison is to zombies even though they have not died.
Alex joins with two others in an attempt to find a safe place to live. However, she is keeping a secret from them, and when they are separated, she regrets not sharing it with them.
As in all good literature, none of the main characters is perfect — all have flaws. And Alex and Tom, the soldier she meets in the wild, both are carrying their own secrets, which will be revealed (presumably) in one of the next two books in the trilogy. Ellie, the young girl whose grandfather dies during the EMP (electromagnetic pulse), and her dog Mina are the third and fourth part of their group.
There is more that Bick needs to explain. What happens to the other characters when they are separated. Why Alex changed in a way others did not, and if it had to do with her cancer.
The ending is not just a cliffhaner, it’s the Mt. Everest of all cliffhangers. Be warned: you will be frustrated beyond belief that you have to wait a year to find out what happens next. Because by the end, the reader really cares about all three main characters.
Even Ellie, the snotty brat of an eight-year-old becomes much more through their adversity. Each of the three comes to truly care about the others, and even though their time together is relatively short, they become a family.
A writing style that Bick uses to great effect is to show Alex’s reaction to something, “Wait. Isn’t that–” and then to show what Alex was reacting to. She does this many times throughout the book, and the reader quickly begins to read faster to find out what Alex was responding to.
Great writing. Fantastic plot. Likable characters. Mt. Everest-type cliffhanger. It all makes for a fabulous book — for young adult readers and adults alike.
This book was reviewed from a final hardcover copy sent by the publisher. The opinions are my own. (Please note: This is a reprint from an earlier review)