Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Ashes, Ashes, It All Falls Down"

Ashes, Ashes
A raging small pox virus changes the face of the planet. 99.99% of the population is dead. Those who survived the virus are horribly scarred and the rumor is they are crazy and ruthless, driven mad by the virus. Then there are the Sweepers, men in masks who kidnap people and take them back to the last working lab, still trying to find a cure to the mutated virus. Those who are left are scavengers. They survive off what they can find and what meager amount they can grow, but the tsunamis, earthquakes and horrible flood/drought seasons have made any kind of farming almost impossible. New York City has become a nightmare for all those who live there.

Lucy outlived her entire family. When the virus was first starting to rampage through her hometown in New Jersey, she was called to the nurse a lot, and they drew a lot of blood, even though Lucy never showed any symptoms. She thought it was routine until her father stormed in and took her home. She never returned to school after that, but there wasn't a school to return to before long. When she outlived her family and most of the world, she wondered if her parents' decision not to vaccinate her as a child was the reason the doctors were so interested in her blood.

Now, Lucy survives alone in the Wilds of NYC, a patch of land between the swollen Hudson River and the destroyed and flooded landscape. She kills and snares her food and lives off the few safe plants she can scrounge. When she is chased by a pack of dogs one day, she is sure she is going to be ripped apart, until a young man pulls her into a tree. At first Aidan seems like a fool hellbent on getting them killed, but when he leads the dogs away and gives her a chance to escape, she can't stop thinking about him. She returns to her lean-to, but when she sees the water recede from the shore, she knows she has a precious few minutes to escape a tsunami. Fleeing up the slope to higher land leads Lucy straight to Aidan's settlement.

Once she arrives, she spies a Sweeper van headed straight to the settlement. She knows she can't let them come unnoticed, so she alerts the people with a wolf whistle, saving many people. Unfortunately, the Sweepers nab two kids and two adults, despite Aidan and the others trying to protect everyone. When they leave, Lucy runs straight to Aidan, thrilled he wasn't hurt. He convinces her to stay with the group, and she grudgingly does, mostly to be with Aidan. Her interest in Aidan becomes a sore spot with a young woman named Del who staked her claim to Aidan years ago, but when Del and a man named Leo are taken by Sweepers int he middle of the night, Lucy wants to go get them. No one has ever returned once they had been taken by the Sweepers.

When Leo arrives dying of the plague and days later Del wanders back after having escaped, they tell everyone what is going on in the hospital and where they are keeping the kids. With first hand knowledge of the hospital, Del, Aidan, and Lucy set off to save the kids. What they don't know is the people inside the compound will be waiting for them. For Lucy in particular. Her blood may be the key to the stopping the virus, and Dr. Lessing, the woman in charge, will stop at nothing to get it.

This book hooked me right from the start, but by the time it wound down to the storming of the hospital, it lost me. When they get in there, nothing is clear. Some people are against Lessing, but then they support her again, but then they try to help the kids escape again, but then they try to stop them. The kids want to escape, then they consider staying, then they don't trust Lessing again and try to escape. You don't know if you are supposed to hate Lessing (which it seems you should) because the character is so odd and her motives- curing the disease- aren't altogether bad. The real problem I had with this final sequence was the unfolding of all the action. It was very confusing and almost seemed to be written by an entirely different author since the first 2/3 of the book was so well written. I am not sure what happened to this part of Jo Treggiari's story, but it made Ashes, Ashes tough for me by the end. And I was left so confused, it ruined the rest of a really good book for me.

The reading level is moderate and the content is mild considering the post-apocalyptic nature of the book. The most gory parts of the story are when Lucy is hunting and cleaning her meat, which is told in pretty serious detail. (You will never look at a turtle the same again). I love this genre, so I have a lot to compare it to, and I probably wouldn't use this book as one of my first recommendations for a kid, unless they had read a great deal of PA before and were whittling down the genre (as I have). I wish it had ended better, because if it had, this would be one seriously great novel! Oh well... maybe next time?

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