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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ash, written by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown. Hachette, 2009. $19.99 ages 14 and up

"When they were gone, she went back to the kitchen where she had taken out flour and starter to bake bread. She began to work, but her mind was elsewhere. She had not gone back into the Wood since the night of the hunt, though the huntress's invitation had been direct enough. She had stayed home partly because her stepmother and stepsisters had been home as well, and by the time they were asleep it was too late, she told herself, to go to the hunting camp. But she knew that in reality, she was simply nervous - at the idea of seeing the huntress again."

This is billed as a retelling of the Cinderella story but bears little resemblance to traditional lore. Aisling, who is called Ash, is the protagonist. She has a stepmother, two stepsisters and does all the house cleaning because, she is told, her father has left a great deal of debt. That ends any similarities to the original. As Ash mourns the loss of her parents, she loses her zest for life and only through a series of events does she find the love that will make her life bearable once more.

Ash lives in a world that is inhabited by fairies and she believes in them, as her mother did before her. She wants nothing more than for the fairies to come and take her from the dreariness of the life she is leading.

So much happens in the novel that will keep interested readers moving forward to discover Ash's future. She has two love interests. Sidhean is a fairy, and Ash wants to be part of his world. She thinks a reunion with her mother will result. As you might guess, joining Sidhean's world would mean Ash's departure from the mortal one. The appeal is evident...leaving the drudgery that has become her life to be with her parents in death. The endless tales she reads are meant to deter her from the fairy world; instead they further entice her. In Part 1 she is 12 and we learn about Sidhean, her obsession for the strangeness of his world and his invitation to help her escape from her life. In Part 2 we meet the huntress. Now Ash is 18 and slowly coming to terms with death and moving toward a clearer choice about life. At the hunting camp, she becomes familiar with new people, explores the wood that surrounds the camp and meets Kaisa, the huntress. It is her attraction to the huntress that has her considering her future. She does not want Prince Aidan. Sidhean plays the role of fairy godfather in getting her to the Ball. Her interest in Sidhean wanes as her friendship with Kaisa blossoms and grows. Ash feels vulnerable to this new life and love and to a perceived lack of interest on Kaisa's part.

I won't spoil the ending. I loved fairy tales as a kid, have loved them as an adult and am always interested in reading one that draws on elements of a familiar story. Malinda Lo's story is a tale of love and longing and deserves a wide audience. Bravo!

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