Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Elinor Book Review: Malinda Lo's Ash

Ash by Malinda Lo is a lovely book. The whole time I read it, I felt like I was in a floaty world surrounded by mist. In that sense, it's a true fairy tale. This is due, in part, to Lo's writing style. It's beautiful but restrained. I didn't feel very connected to Ash because for me everything was held at a blurry distance, like an old photograph. This is not a criticism, just an observation.

I felt that this distance allowed Lo to explore some pretty dark themes, such as suicide, with a light touch. As with the old fairy tales, a younger reader could read this story and only skim the surface of what the characters were feeling. An older reader would be able to appreciate the nuances. I actually felt that despite the heavier themes due to Ash's sad childhood, this was a younger YA book.

You may have also heard that it's a LESBIAN retelling of Cinderella. That makes for a nice hook, I suppose, but it's also a narrow way to describe the story. The development of the relationship between Ash and Kaisa, the King's huntress, felt natural and sweet. In contrast to Ash's relationship with the fairy prince, Kaisa was grounded, warm, real. In my opinion, the story is not about whether or not Ash likes boys or girls, it's whether or not Ash will choose to live or die (by forsaking her human life for the Fairy realm).

I read this book very quickly. It was like a spell settled over me and I had to read until I was done—not in a heart-pounding way, but in a dreamy, mesmerized sort of way. It just sort of happened, page after beautiful page, until I was done.

Ash didn't stay with me too sharply, but I attribute that to two things: the book's style and my age. I think this book would really seize a younger reader and like I said, the darker themes are beautifully muted so that the reader can decide how deeply to experience them.

I would happily recommend this to fairy tale lovers of any age, and middle school to high school readers.

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