Seventeen-year-old Alex’s life has not been a picnic since she lost both of her parents in a medical helicopter crash four years earlier. After going to live with her Aunt Hannah, Alex discovers she has an inoperable brain tumor. She finally grows tired of the chemo, radiation, and experimental medical treatments and heads off to the Waucamaw Wilderness, a forest where she and her father used to go camping in Michigan. Her plan is to spread her parents' ashes somewhere in the Waucamaw. One day while Alex is camping, sixty-five-year-old Jack Cranford, his nine-year-old granddaughter, Ellie, and her dog, Mina, show up during their morning hike. While talking to Jack, a strange and devastating event happens. Suddenly, Alex feels the most horrible pain in her head. Unbelievably, while she is paralyzed, birds fall from the sky and deer commit suicide by running off a cliff. When Alex is finally able to sit up, she discovers that she is bleeding and Jack is dead. Unwittingly, Alex becomes the guardian to Ellie, who is angry and resentful that her father was killed in Iraq. After the “Zap”, Alex surprisingly discovers that her sense of smell has returned. While trudging through the wilderness, Alex and Ellie meet up with Tom Eden, who saves them from a cannibalistic zombie and wild dogs.
Tom and Alex discover that changes have been caused by EMPs—electromagnetic pulses. It has disabled modern technological conveniences, like cars, phones, computers, and televisions and triggered nuclear radiation due to power plant failures. It has also caused teens to turn into flesh-eating zombies, “The Changed”, and has killed people between the ages of about twenty-six to sixty-five. Tom, Alex, Ellie, and Mina seek refuge at a ranger station, but eventually begin heading north in an old jeep. They are robbed by a group of elderly people, who also take Ellie and Mina and wound Tom. Eventually, Alex makes it to Rule, a small town in Michigan. She is part of a rescue team to help Tom, but by the time help arrives, Tom has disappeared. Alex is accepted into the town, but she soon discovers that she may have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The town is governed by the Council of 5, which consists of the families which founded Rule and have lived there for generations. The older teens and twenty-something youths are encouraged to “Choose” someone with which to live and eventually have children. Everyone has jobs within the town, and two brothers, Chris and Peter, often go off on long missions supposedly searching for food and other supplies. Unfortunately, the town and some of its residents are harboring secrets. Alex desperately wants to leave and search for Tom and Ellie, but she is attracted to Chris and is being lulled into the safety of Rule. Ultimately, it is Jess, one of the town elders who helps Alex escape. Too late, Alex discovers that Jess actually has ulterior motives and her own agenda for eliminating Alex.
Readers, hold onto your hats! What an intense and great ride and read this was! Ashes is a fast-paced and exciting novel! The main characters have strong and endearing personalities. There is a lot of information included about camping, hiking, and physics; the author has certainly done her research in these areas! The roadblocks that are placed in Alex’s, Tom’s, and Ellie’s paths…flesh-eating teenagers, crazed, thieving elderly people, wild dogs, and starvation, are almost insurmountable. The descriptions of “The Changed”, the cannibalistic teenagers, are horrific and terrifying. In addition, to think that sweet old people could turn into ruthless thieves, killers, and kidnappers is very creepy! This book is a real page turner! I was so upset when I got to the end and realized that the ending is a CLIFF HANGER! Boo hiss! So, look for a sequel! According to the author’s website, there will be two more books in the Ashes series. Ashes will be released on September 6, 2011. It will be followed by Shadows and Monsters.
This is one book you will not be able to put down! It is definitely for readers who can’t get enough of dystopian novels or zombies!! I highly recommend it book for high school and public libraries!
Reviewers note: The edition reviewed was an advanced readers’ copy from netgalley.com.