They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That expression has always ticked me off as a platitude that having something crappy happen is somehow good. In the case of the main character Alex In Ashes, by Ilisa J. Blick, it’s true. Seventeen year old Alex has already had to deal with both her parents being killed just a few years earlier and then she is diagnosed with a brain tumor that has not been responding to radiation, chemo and some nontraditional treatments. She takes off to hike in the Waucamaw not only to get away from her well-meaning aunt and the doctors, but she has some other agendas too. However, soon into her expedition, she runs into an older gentleman and his granddaughter who are an outing as the girl’s father has been KIA in Afghanistan. Strangers on the trail who have barely exchanged more than a dozen words, fate draws them together when something strange and terrifying happens that causes the grandfather to drop dead leaving Alex with an angry little girl to deal with and some strange effects to her own body.
Alex decides that the best thing to do is to make their way to the ranger station, a few days hike away. As they travel Alex notices some signs that whatever happened that killed the grandfather was not an isolated event. The trip to the ranger’s cabin becomes a race for survival and brings a new figure into their group, Tom, who had his own reasons for being in the park. Suddenly, Alex’s tumor is the least of her problems as she has to deal with wild dogs, wolves, those who were strangely affected by what she terms “The Zap” and the rest who are just trying to stay alive in a world that has turned upside down.
I really liked the character of Alex. Having suffered so much at a young age, she is well past the point of whining, when the Zap happens. She has already had to think a lot about death, her own and others, and it helps her face the new realities. She also is much better prepared than others her age as her father was a cop and her mom a doctor and she has learned some important skills which serve her well in the story. Yet despite her skills and toughness there is something vulnerable about a girl who has had to live with a ‘monster’ in her head and now finds that her monster may just be her savior. I also liked the depiction of some of the other characters, no one is a full saint or a sinner, most people have to just play the hand they are dealt, and morality is a luxury in a world where staying alive comes with a cost.


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