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A current trend in young adult literature envisions the future as bleak. It’s fraught with corrupt governments, unethical reality television, and teenagers as having the only moral reasoning. There are also zombies --- lots of them. While many books explore the campy nature of reincarnated life, ASHES delivers a new twist on the zombie apocalypse. These are not your typical zombies, nor are the people left innocent victims of an unthinkable attack. Everyone has a role to play, and ASHES makes it difficult to figure out who are the real monsters.

The book’s self-proclaimed heroine is anything but. At the onset of the story, Alex is wandering into a secluded forest of Michigan to escape the horrors of her past --- and present. She has brought along with her the ashes of her dead parents in hopes of scattering them on Lake Superior, all while coming to terms with the fact that she herself is slowly dying from a brain tumor. She isn’t sure what she expects to find in the whole process, but that ends up being the least of her worries.

While camping, Alex is discovered by a dog belonging to a grandfather and his granddaughter, Ellie. As they swap stories of what they are doing in the forest, tragedy strikes. The grandfather drops dead while both Alex and Ellie experience mind-blowing headaches. After Alex and Ellie both recover from the shock and horror of what happened, they slowly make their way to the nearest campground. But they aren’t prepared for what they see next: Two teenagers are slowly devouring the remains of the bodies at the campground.

They flee in disbelief. It isn’t until they are saved from another zombie-type person by the hands of a former military soldier, Tom, that they begin to piece together what happened. Powerful electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) have exploded in the atmosphere and left all electronics dead. The EMPs also wiped out the really young and those in the 30-50 range. The elderly weren’t affected, but teenagers have been turned into something only seen in movies. They feast off of humans and are wicked fast. Tom, Alex and Ellie manage to survive at a local ranger station for a while, but eventually set out to explore what has happened to civilization as they know it.

From there, ASHES manages to eclipse all other zombie novels for so many reasons. After the EMP, Alex feels as though her brain tumor has been destroyed, and she’s left with an almost superhuman feeling of smell. She’s afraid to tell others, though, about the brain tumor or that she’s been healed. She doesn’t even believe it herself. This confliction runs rampant throughout, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she really was healed. This feeling of unease never lets up, and this overwhelming sense of urgency kept me reading long into the night.

For all you zombie fans, the action is swift, brutal and gruesome. In so many other books, the zombies are always adults, which makes it easier and somewhat guilt-free for them to be killed. This time around they are teenagers, which begs the question of while Alex was spared why others were not. It also makes it more horrifying as they rip limbs off and plunge their teeth into soft, vulnerable flesh. ASHES is a cut above the rest, and is definitely a book you do not want to miss!

Reviewed by Benjamin Boche on November 4, 2011

(The Ashes Trilogy #1)
by Ilsa J. Bick