Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ash, by Melinda Lo

Title:  Ash
Author: Melinda Lo
Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 272
Genre: Fantasy
Themes:  Family, First Love
Age Level:  7th Grade and Up

Summary: (from Goodreads)
In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

This is one of the more creative re-imaginings of the Cinderella story that I've seen.  Even above and beyond the fact of Ash's same-sex first love, Lo makes Ash a much more active participant in the story of her life than most versions do.  Ultimately, the story comes down to the choice between fantasy and reality.  Ash's life was hard and miserable-it only makes sense that she would wish to escape it to the land of the fairies.  At least, it made sense to her until she saw what real life could be.  Was it worth giving up a chance at happiness in the real world for an eternity of contented servitude to the fairies?  Lo's writing is dark and subtly menacing when describing Ash's life in her stepmother's house or her time with Sidhean, but becomes luminous when describing Ash's time in the Wood, and her interactions with Kaisa.  There are great opportunities for discussing writer's craft with this book, both in the use of descriptive language and the character development of Ash from young girl to young woman.

There are many ways this book could be used in the classroom.  I think that you could make a whole unit out of re-imaginings of various fairy tales, of which this is a great example.  I think that there are many discussions that could come from the choice Ash must make between withdrawing from the world and being a part of it.  Regardless of whether it is used for direct instruction, I think that Ash would be a great addition to any classroom library.

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