Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson – Review by Melissa Biehl
I have loved Laurie Halse Anderson ever since I first read her book Fever 1793. I have read many of her books over the years and find them so powerfully written. I even went on a road trip to Naperville, IL with my daughters in 2009 so we could meet her. That summer, Anderson Bookshop was hosting a reader’s theater by an amazing cast of authors. Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson were making an appearance together that same evening.
Her Seeds of America trilogy is one of my favorites of all time. In all three books, each chapter is introduced by a quote from a primary source that helps give insight into the general attitude during the war. The books also feature accompanying vocabulary lists to reference throughout your reading. It was a long wait for the third book in the installment, but Ashes does not disappoint. Many times in the first book, Chains, I was left sobbing from Anderson’s depiction of the cruelty of slavery through the treatment of the main character, Isabel. Her friendship with Curzon, a boy she rescued from the British, made me feel like I had time traveled back to the American Revolution and was walking alongside these brave people.
In the second book in the series, Forge, the perspective changes to Curzon telling the story as he enlists and fights for the Patriots. In his story, he focuses more on the war rather than the people, but Isabel and Curzon’s relationship grows as they travel from New York City to Valley Forge.
In the final book, Ashes, Isabel again narrates while we travel with her and Curzon to Virginia, where they are searching for Isabel’s sister Ruth. She has been separated from Isabel for years since being sent away by their slave owner. The reunion is not a happy one as Ruth does not trust Isabel. Together, they all head to Yorktown where the war is waging.
This story is more about commitment, resilience, and courage than it is war. The war is a part of the story, but Isabel, Curzon, and Ruth are the heart of it. Curzon and Isabel have a complicated relationship, but over the course of the trilogy their lives become entangled. Curzon fights for the Patriots and the promise of a new country. Isabel believes that neither side is fighting for her people and does not see how either outcome of the war could change her life for the better. However, her feelings change when she and Ruth begin work with the military as cooks. One of the soldiers, Henry, says the black people in the military “go to war..in order to make our mother country, this country, this land, free for everyone” (Halse 239). Isabel agrees with this sentiment after her time working with the soldiers.
All three of the main characters have inner demons that are haunting them and driving their decisions. You will have to read this book yourself to find out what they are. I recommend reading the trilogy, so you can truly understand the depths of these characters, which is what Anderson has a true gift for. Her characters come into your mind through a story, but are forever left on your heart.
Melissa Biehl is teaching 5th grade this year at Bellerive Elementary in St. Louis, Missouri. After spending 7 years teaching, and 7 years in the library, she has re entered the trenches this year as a classroom teacher. She sometimes has to pinch herself that she gets paid to do a job that brings her so much joy! She loves kids and books and connecting books and people is lifetime passion of hers. She can be found traveling near and far to meet and talk with authors as she loves sharing these stories with her students. She has attended Nerd Camp twice and cannot wait to attend each year! She often brings authors to her school in both person and through Skype for her students to build relationships with the authors they love. You can find her on Twitter @mbiehl1.