I just finished reading Ashes to AshevilleAshes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley. It is a Young Adult novel dealing with the “hard things.” It is told from the point of view of Fella, a twelve year old girl whose mother has recently died of cancer. That is, one of her mothers. Mama Lacy and Mama Shannon were a couple, and mothers to Fella and her sister Zany, although they were not able to marry legally in West Virginia when the story took place. So Fella is not only dealing with the death of her mother, but has been sent by the court to live with her biological grandmother, Mrs. Madison.
Fella misses both her mothers and her sister, and Mrs. Madison is a more formal, worrisome lady who loves Fella, but doesn’t show it in the way the girl is accustomed to.
When Zany shows up at Mrs. Madison’s house late at night, she only means to take the urn of Mama Lacy’s ashes and take them to Asheville, the home they loved, and scatter them. But Fella wakes up, and she and the dog Haberdashery end up with Zany on a wild ride from West Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina. Along the way, they meet Adam, who is trying to get to the hospital where his father is near death.
This may seem to be a lot of death to deal with for a young reader, but I came away with the feeling that the story was less about death, and more about love. Isn’t it every child’s greatest fear that a parent will die? (I almost used the euphemism “something will happen,” but opted for honesty.)
At twelve years old, Fella has survived six months without one mother, and sees the other only occasionally. The wild ride to Asheville, and the panic it causes when Mrs. Madison and Mama Shannon report them missing, shows Fella who and what are most important in her life, and gives her the courage to speak up.
So the story is about love and courage, valuable characteristics for a young reader to develop. Even children much younger than twelve know that bad things happen. It is not our job as adults to protect them so much as teach them — teach them courage, give them love. Be with them in honesty.
Fella is part of a non-traditional family dealing with hard things. But she is a role model for any child because she is real.
Get a copy of Ashes to Asheville and read it, no matter how old you are. I would love to hear what other people think.