The Nature of Ash

The Nature of Ash by Mandy Hager
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reviewed by Melanie Wittwer, Green Bay Creative Writers

Ash McCarthy is enjoying his care free student life, when suddenly the world as he knows it collapses around him. He has no option, but to return home to care for his brother and figure out what happened to his father. Together with little brother Mikey and two other teenagers he embarks on a road trip into an uncertain future. Initially I was worried that the teenage characters would remain flat and cliché-ridden: the responsible one, the Asian girl, etc. But, boy do they develop and , boy, do they show depth.
The book invites comparison to John Marsden’s Tomorrow series: a fictional war on home territory in the not so distant future and a group of teenagers left to fend for themselves. But I found Ash and his friends much more compelling . I felt for them more in this one book than I felt for Ellie and her mates in the entire Tomorrow series. Don’t get me wrong. I still think the Tomorrow series is excellent.
Ash goes through a lot. The loss of one family member, the return of another. Hager plays with the imagery surrounding the name Ash a lot. I like it. It’s very creative and avoids the obvious comparison. My favourite character is Erich. I want to hug him.
Hager takes current issues such as asset sales and their implications and plays out a more or less plausible scenario of what things might develop into in the next 30 years or so. The novel demonstrates how easily your life can flip and all you thought to be true turns out to be not so and also why some people had better stay dead. I liked the realistic setting and how it plays with concepts and surroundings that New Zealand can relate to. It certainly scared the hell out of me and I don’t even live in Wellington. I even avoided watching the news for a couple of days after I finished the book. That is how realistic it seemed to me. I hope she got it wrong.

Mandy Hager (writer)
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Mandy Hager won the Esther Glen Award for Fiction for her novel Smashed and Best Young Adult Book in the NZ Post Book Awards 2010 for The Crossing. She was trained as a teacher, and she also has an Advanced Diploma in Applied Arts (Writing) from Whitireia Polytechnic and a MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University. She lives with her husband on the Kapiti Coast on an acre of land.

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