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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ashes to Asheville, written by Sarah Dooley. G.P.Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2017. $22.99 ages 12 and up

"Sundays are the hardest days since Mama Lacy died. I go to church with Mama Shannon and Zany and there's the loneliness of the empty seat next to us. No one's ever filled Mama Lacy's seat and everybody talks at us, but nobody really talks with us. They mean well, they just don't know us. We only went to church in the first place because Mama Lacy wanted us to, ... "

When Mama Lacy dies after a valiant fight with cancer, the family's life takes an even more tragic turn. First, Mama Shannon, Fella and Zany must leave Asheville where they have lived happily together. Moving back to West Virginia to be close to family and where state laws concerning gay marriage grant Fella's grandmother (Lacy's mother) custody of the younger sister, causes further sadness, tearing her away from the only family she has known. Mrs. Madison loves and cares for Fella, providing all she needs to live a comfortable life while Shannon and Zany struggle daily to make ends meet. It is only one of the issues faced.

As Mama Lacy's fortieth birthday approaches, Zany wants to grant her dying wish and scatter her ashes in Asheville where the family had lived in peace and contentment. Fella, and her grandmother's dog Haberdashery, become unwilling participants for the middle-of-the-night trip. It is, to say the least, the longest night of their very young lives. A series of crazy and sometimes dangerous mishaps will have readers quickly turning  pages, while also holding their collective breath as they travel with the two girls.

Fella's voice is so personal and strong in this first person narration of the turmoil faced, the memories shared, and the many changes that have followed the death of their mother. Fella's 12 year old self shines through, at times humorous to keep spirits up during their ill-fated trip.

In the end, will Mrs. Madison and Mama Shannon be able to find common ground, and mend their broken hearts? Discussion is sure to follow concerning the true meaning of family, and if it should be left to lawmakers to decide what that is.. If you are a middle grade teacher, this would be a memorable story to share before your students go home for the summer. It is powerful, touching, and welcome.

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