Ash by Malinda Lo 2009
Little & Brown/Hachette Book Group
IQ "She wasn't exactly telling the truth, but she wasn't entirely lying, either, for she did not believe that wrong was an accurate description of her feelings. Perplexed, yes; uncertain, yes; but beneath it all something as yet unnamed was coming into focus." pg. 187
I chose the above quote because I think it fully exemplifies how people feel when they fall in love and I also think that it describes how people feel may feel when struggling to find out their sexuality (this is pure speculation, based on the few other books I've read, so in all probability I may be wrong and feel free to say so). As in, when first falling in love, people are confused. We don't know what this bubbly (cute song) feeling is that has come upon us, we feel uncertain but happy.
I LOVED this novel! As soon as I finished it, I knew that I had to review it on Christmas, a wonderful book for a wonderful day (if you don't celebrate Christmas, well then it's for a wonderful holiday season! Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. I must admit, I would prefer to have seen this version of Cinderella in movie form as a child or to have it read to me. Anyway, Ash is short for Aisling and her story starts off somewhat typically, just add in magic. Ash is devastated by the loss of her parents, especially the death of her mother. She wants to die and be with her family. Her stepmother has her working as a servant and her stepsisters are apathetic and even make her life worse. Enter Sidhean and Kaisa (I also adore all the names used in the novel). Sidhean is a powerful fairy and Ash falls in love with him, she wants to become a part of his world. Sidhean is handsome and seems to care deeply for Ash, but he's also dangerous. She feels that only in the world of fairies will she be happy (short of death and in a way you do die when you join the faeries). Then she meets Kaisa who is the King's Huntress. Kaisa is beautiful, friendly to her and doesn't treat Ash like a lowly servant (unlike everyone else in her life). She treats Ash with respect. She teaches her things and listens to her. In a way, Ash is a love triangle but within that love triangle are the deeper forces, Sidhean represents death and Kaisa represents life. Who will she chose? Also, all the characters are three-dimensional. We learn their stories and while some don't change, we learn the motives behind their actions, and some characters do change for the better.
I love the twists in Ash. Not just the obvious of Ash falls in love with a woman. Their romance is slow to develop but it's thoroughly enjoyable. But that's not what this novel is about. Ash is not a coming out story, it's more of a coming of age story. Even more it's about a girl coming to terms with her grief and learning to love again. She is at rock bottom and love saves her. Ash is grieving and Sidhean is a way out, he's not Prince Charming (he is charming though). He's her fairy godmother (fairy godfather to be politically correct ;p). Also his help comes at a price. Ash is unpredictable because while you suspect the story will have a happy ending, there is a good deal of pain and trials to go through. How exactly will Ash get her happy ending?
The writing in Ash is absolutely beautiful. You turn each page slowly and you never want the story to end. I relished each place. I could have stayed in Ash's world forever. I could perfectly envision it in my mind's eye. A place where everyone is accepting of people's gender (there's no preconceived gender roles), sexuality (there are gay couples and it's totally fine) and race. Race is never really mentioned in the book, only in descriptions of character's appearance, although the author has said that she has always seen Ash and Kaisa as Asian. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where people's race and sexuality were accepted as is and that no one was told they could not do something because of their gender? I also loved this world for the fairies. They are beautiful, cold, magical beings. They hide from the humans and the only real source of conflict in Ash's world is over whether or not fairies exist, and the practicing of magic by greenwitches. And of course, the exquisite scenery described in Ash adds to the attraction of her world. Ash spends much of her time in the Woods, where faeries are said to lurk. The Woods are described with such detail, you can envision them perfectly in your imagination.
I can't recommend this book enough. Ash will blow you away, it's just lovely. I finished this book feeling satisfied with a happy content feeling, but then later on, I wanted more (the author is working on a story set in the same world but thousands of years earlier, I believe). I'm so glad I bought this book because Ash is a book I will treasure and re-read countless times. Also, the cover is gorgeous! I'm so glad that one of my new favorite books has a great cover to go with it :) There's no graphic violence or sexually explicit acts so I'm going to recommend this to all who are in 7th grade and up.
I want to close this review with a quote from the author (which I found watching this video because I think she is right on and I couldn't have said it any better myself (I'm paraphrasing a bit) "The real fairytale is that nobody cares that she's gay. The fairytale is that she can fall in love with another woman and it's as normal and wonderful as any heterosexual romance." Amen! It's a beautiful romance, but Ash is about so much more; loss, love and hope. Ash is a must-read. Don't miss out on this stunning debut novel.
PS Merry Christmas everyone!!!! And I hope everyone continues to have a happy holiday season :)