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Ashes, Ashes

Review

Ashes, Ashes

In the post-apocalyptic world of the near future, humanity has been reduced to a tiny fraction of its current size by a relentless onslaught of catastrophic occurrences. The polar ice caps have melted, raising sea levels, triggering massive rain and altering the planet's climate beyond recognition. The seasons as we know them no longer exist. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Venice, Coney Island and Japan have sunk beneath the waves. New York City has become a series of scattered islands, only tenuously connected to the mainland by a few surviving bridges.

A population weakened by climate change-induced flooding is quick to succumb to a plague that breaks out. People between the ages of 30 and 60 have died in epic numbers, creating a mass extinction that leaves behind a mere one percent of the total human population, most of them children and the elderly. In the eerie new wilderness left behind by the combined effects of climate change and disease, the small bands of remaining survivors must hide from the Sweepers, government thugs who are rounding the stragglers up and taking them away in white vans, never to be seen again.

Sixteen-year old Lucy "Lucky" Holloway, one of the survivors, has built herself a wilderness shelter in what used to be Central Park and lives there in hermetic isolation. Lucy, deeply scarred by the death of her entire family --- mother, father, brother Rob, and sister Maggie --- has not spoken to or run into another human being in an entire year. She no longer trusts anyone but herself.

Until the pox, Lucy had been a typical middle-class teenager, busy with school, trying to overcome her shyness and fit in with her peer group, and hoping to discover where her own talents lie. She does not see herself as gifted in any way, unlike athletic Rob or scholarly Maggie. But somehow she has survived a disease that has claimed billions of people. She is now forced to fend for herself and live in the wilderness, although nothing in her comfortable upbringing so far has prepared her for this difficult venture.

When we first meet Lucy, she is hard at work trying to overcome her revulsion and cut up a dead turtle for food. She is attempting to follow the instructions from a survival manual picked up from a destroyed bookstore, but is dismayed to find that a few crucial pages seem to be missing from the directions. What emerges from this early description is a sense of Lucy's tenacity and will to live, and an awareness of the enormous gulf that separates modern humans, especially those living in developed countries, from the skill set needed for wilderness survival under such harrowing conditions.

When Lucy finds herself hunted by packs of dogs, she has no choice but to trust a strange boy, Aidan, who has emerged to offer help. As Lucy joins Aidan's camp where he lives with his brother and a few other survivors, she is shocked to discover that the dogs, and the Searchers who sent them, are hunting specifically for her. Now Lucy and Aidan must struggle to find out what it is that makes her so important to the Searchers, while learning a few valuable lessons about trust and love along the way.

Jo Treggiari does a commendable job of portraying the hour-to-hour, day-to-day challenges that Lucy must face and adapt to in this new world. Lucy is a likable, intelligent, introspective character who manages to be heroic without trying. I also liked the fact that Lucy retains her grit, tenacity and desire for autonomy even after meeting Aidan, without suddenly morphing into a hapless love-stricken young girl with the arrival of a male romantic hero.

The trickiest aspect of the novel is the fact that Lucy does not encounter another human for the first hundred pages, resulting in the early part of the book being extensively descriptive, with no conversations to break up the long narrative. However, I found the detailed descriptions of her post-apocalyptic life to be well-researched and make for fascinating reading. The portions of the book that detail the transformation of a major international city into a dreary and dangerous wasteland are nothing short of chilling.

The resolution felt somewhat rushed, but the ending suggests that ASHES, ASHES could mark the beginning of a new series, thus giving fans more of Lucy's adventures to look forward to in the future.

Reviewed by Usha Rao on June 1, 2011

Ashes, Ashes
by Jo Treggiari

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2013
  • Genres: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0545255643
  • ISBN-13: 9780545255646