Author: Ilsa Bick
Genre: YA, post-apocalyptic
In Ashes, 17-year-old Alex takes a solo hiking trip into the northern Wisconsin woods bordering the upper peninsula of Michigan. As with many YA books, Alex's parents are dead, and she lives with an aunt she seems to have minimal attachment to. Alex has a brain tumor, and the trip is partly a last adventure to herself as she decides to stop all treatment and live her life to the fullest.
During the trip, an event happens. An EMP - electromagnetic pulse - disables all electronic devices, and causes some people to drop dead instantly while others get violently sick; Alex compares her reaction to chemotherapy. Just before the event, Alex encounters an older man and his granddaughter in the woods; the man dies while the girl, Ellie, is spared, along with their dog. Alex and Ellie stick together and search out a nearby ranger station Alex locates on her trail map. They barely have food or ammo and the weather's turning cold. Each moment feels tense and thrilling, especially when they find other survivors in the woods who act wild, crazed and in once case, cannibalistic.
Alex and Ellie are rescued from one of these crazed changed people by a soldier named Tom who is on leave from fighting in Afghanistan. The three form a family of sorts and stay together for weeks as they formulate a plan and speculate what happened and where it's safe to go. Alex is fairly sure her tumor saved her; one of the changes from the event is her sense of smell went from non-existent to highly acute. In fact, she and the dog seem like they can sense the presence of the changed ones early on. Alex isn't sure why Tom was spared, but he suffers from PTSD and has trouble sleeping. The tone is both desperate and hopeful as the three plan every aspect of their survival.
There is a point in the book where the story changes course, and Alex ends up in a strange cult-like community among a completely different set of characters. I should mention now, this book is the first in a series, which I wasn't aware of. The story ends abruptly with what I felt like was more than a cliffhanger; there isn't any resolution to the story arc whatsoever, and I was left wondering what happened to Tom and Ellie, who Alex had gotten separated from. It almost felt like two different books. While I loved the first half, I felt a bit disconnected with where the story went.
I would recommend Ashes if you liked the survival aspects of The Hunger Games and enjoy post-apocalyptic adventures. It would've been a better experience for me if the second book was available to continue on with, or if there had been more resolution with the current story rather than the sudden ending.