________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 37 . . . . May 27, 2011


Ashes, Ashes.

Jo Treggiari.
New York, NY: Scholastic (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2011.
344 pp., hardcover, $20.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-25563-9.

Subject Headings:

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Rob Bittner.

*** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.



Lucy's rib cage felt suddenly too small for her lungs. The devastation was overpowering seen at this distance. An entire city leveled. Some structures brought down by the gale force winds and the earthquakes, others by friendly bombing. And buried deep with the mortar and brick and sheets of steel were millions of people who had sickened and died in a matter of hours, many dropping where they stood in the first and second waves of the plague.

Ashes, Ashes showcases a post apocalyptic New York City through the eyes of a teenage girl named Lucy. After losing her parents and escaping a refugee camp, Lucy makes her way into the wilderness to survive on her own. And she succeeds, at least for a while, until the Sweepers show up with their dogs. In a matter of minutes, Lucy's life is once again torn apart, and she is forced to confront her fear of the plague and being hunted by Sweepers, as well as her reluctance to rely on the kindness of strangers. Lucy gets more than she bargained for as she ends up going with her friends, Del and Aidan, to face the Sweepers, and the secrets of The Compound on Roosevelt Island.

At first, Ashes, Ashes moves rather slowly, concentrating on the inner workings of Lucy: her motivations, her fears, and her way of living in the wild. Before the novel becomes tedious, however, Treggiari uses her talents to draw the reader into the constant dangers of living in a city that, while almost entirely unpopulated, is the home of some very disturbing individuals.

      Descriptions of the city are vivid and frightening, as are the environmental disasters that are eerily similar to projections of the current fate of the planet. The earth has been ravaged by floods and earthquakes of incredible magnitude, changing the shape and size of entire continents—Australia, for example, has shrunk by almost half. And the plague is just plain creepy, leaving only one person in a million standing.

      The characters are complex, compelling, and engaging. Readers will become attached to at least one, if not all, of the main characters, even when it would seem justifiable to strangle one of them. Lucy is the most poignant of the main cast, having the opening few chapters all to herself before anyone else is introduced. There is also a love triangle, though it is handled much less carefully than the main arc of the narrative and could arguably have been left out with few consequences overall.

      The title of this book is a reference to a poem about the Black Plague that ravaged Europe so many centuries ago, and to which this novel is an allusion. The poem reads, "Ring around the roses / A pocketful of posies / Ashes, Ashes / We all fall down." Handled with deft and delicate prose, Ashes, Ashes is so much more than 'just another dystopia.' While it is not very different than other post apocalyptic versions of New York (I mean, how many can there be when everything's been blown up?), Treggiari manages to keep the story from becoming cliché. There are moments that lack clarity and some situations feel rushed, but all in all I was engaged and was saddened (although somewhat relieved) when I reached the last sentence.


Rob Bittner is a graduate student of Children's and Young Adult Literature at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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