Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Ashes (Bick)

AUTHOR: Ilsa Bick
ISBN-13: 9781606841754 
SOURCE: TLA 2011 galley
GENRE: sci-fi/horror
OVERALL RATING: Highly recommended.
RECOMMENDED FOR: HS guys and gals who like their apocalyptic futures sprinkled with a side of zombies. Middle school guys and gals who can handle graphic descriptions of gore and brain-zapped teens who kill and eat their victims.

SUMMARY: Suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, seventeen-year old Alex is hiking in the mountains when an electromagnetic pulse kills millions instantly. She quickly joins Ellie, an eight-year old orphan, and Tom, a young army veteran, in a fight for survival. Together, the trio battle hunger, thirst, serious injury, freezing temperatures, and--oh, yeah--kids whose brains were so altered by the EMP, they are hunting, killing, and eating the few remaining survivors.

WHAT I LIKED: More, please!!! The Stand, The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking, and now Ashes. I do love me some apocalyptic fiction, and I read Ashes compulsively. I read it at the breakfast table, in the closet waiting out a tornado warning, in the bathroom, in the car, at the eye doctor, at the gym. I even skipped the American Idol finale to read it. When I wasn't reading it, I was talking it up to others or thinking about it. Quite simply, literary euphoria!

While there are relatively few characters for much of the book, the main three (Alex, Tom, and Ellie) are complex, courageous, and believably flawed. Alex's sardonic references to her brain tumor show that while she accepts that the tumor will eventually kill her, she won't be going down without a fight. While at first Tom seems a bit too good to be true, he's clearly battling his own demons and, like Alex, does not back down from doing what's necessary to survive. Little Ellie is understandably bitter and has been through more than any eight-year old girl should; readers will easily forgive her bad attitude once they learn more about her struggles. She's only eight, after all.

Bick sets up a love triangle that I can't wait to see develop in second book. While both romances are a bit predictable, the leading men are likeable enough that many readers will root for them both. Bick leaves herself lots of room to expand both male characters in later books; there is more to them than meets the eye.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The events of the last 50 pages happen so quickly that they are confusing. I closed the book and thought, "What just happened there?" Like Alex, I have lots of unanswered questions, which leaves me anticipating the sequel even more.


  • LANGUAGE: mild-medium; profanity is lightly sprinkled throughout, but it is not at all gratuitous
  • SEXUALITY: mild; some kissing, talk of young women being necessary to continue species; a couple of references to menstruation
  • VIOLENCE: extremely high; very graphic descriptions of "The Changed" eating various human body parts; several murders; descriptions of crude surgeries; lots of gore and blood. Not for weak stomachs.
  • DRUGS/ ALCOHOL: nothing more than aspirin, ibuprofen for pain; medical drugs in surgery and cancer treatments

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: Oh, the conflict! I would love to get this one and can think of several students who would definitely love it. The gore is my main concern, but I rarely reject a book for the library based solely on violence. I do get tons of requests for "the scariest book in the library" or "a book with murders," and Ashes would fit both. Requests for "zombie books" can be difficult to fill, and this would satisfy that niche as well. As gory as it is, I do believe there is a middle school audience for Ashes, and I do plan to purchase it for the library. As a former middle schooler myself, I know I would have loved it.

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