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Review of Ashes

anderson_ashesAshes [Seeds of America]
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Intermediate, Middle School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    296 pp.
10/16    978-1-4169-6146-8    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-4508-6    $6.99

It’s been five long years since Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, was stolen away by hated slave owner Madam Lockton (Chains, rev. 11/08), but as Isabel continues her fraught journey south in June 1781 with her companion, Curzon, she remains as determined as ever to find and rescue her sister. On a semi-abandoned South Carolina plantation, they do find Ruth, but she has made a home there and is aloof and even hostile to Isabel. This attitude, coupled with Ruth’s slight mental impairment, makes their continuing escape (as Isabel, Curzon, and Ruth flee the plantation when the white overseer returns) even more perilous. Heading north, they are inexorably drawn toward Yorktown, setting of the climactic battle of the American Revolution. Anderson takes full advantage of unfolding history to weave a plethora of historical detail into the narrative, while her characters confront the relative merits of the American and British positions in relation to the status of African Americans. Isabel comes to realize that “freedom would not be handed to us like a gift. Freedom had to be fought for and taken.” By questioning the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded, the Seeds of America trilogy does for middle grade readers what M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books (rev. 9/06 and 9/08) do for young adult readers. And amidst the moral quagmire of colonial-American racial politics, Isabel and Curzon resolve the romantic tension that has simmered throughout the series and forge a hopeful, clear-eyed vision of their shared future.

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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