Dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA novels are in vogue right now, in accordance with the flowing tides of the Zeitgeist. I’m writing one myself, which gives me an extra reason for reading and enjoying many of them… but for me, Jo Treggiari’s ‘Ashes, Ashes’ stands out.
Yes, it’s about teenagers caught up in the aftermath of catastrophe – but lo and behold, there are older folk involved too. Yes, there’s romance: but Treggiari disdains the Hollywood approach. Instead of the gamine heroine with perfectly tousled hair, dressed in battle-chic and ready for combat, the book opens with 16 year old Lucy, dirty, sweaty and greasy-haired, crouched in her muddy shelter on the shores of what used to be Central Park, painfully trying to butcher a turtle. Sea-level rise and haemorrhagic plague have devastated the human population, and the survivors spend most of their time and energy trying to scavenge enough food to get by.
Pursued by a pack of vicious dogs, Lucy is helped to safety by a boy called Aidan. When her camp is destroyed by a tsunami she joins his small community of survivors, only to discover that their shanty town is regularly raided by an army of ‘Sweepers’ who carry off children and elders to their headquarters and – apparently – experiment on them.
The world of the novel is detailed, carefully imagined, realistically bleak, but with flashes of beauty. Lucy and Aidan feel like real people – ordinary teenagers caught up in something terrible, whose resilience comes out in humour, wisecracks, and ultimately in the sort of selfless courage it's good to be reminded young people - or any people - are capable of.
The title ‘Ashes, Ashes’ is a line from the American version of the nursery rhyme ‘Ring a Roses’:
Ring around the roses
A pocketful of posies
We all fall down.
I don’t know if there’ll be a sequel, but if you’re into post-apocalyptic fiction, this is definitely one to look out for.
“Ashes, Ashes” by Jo Treggiari, Scholastic Press 2011
Hardcover $17.99 US
Available as a Kindle Edition
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