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From Ashes by Molly McAdams

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Synopsis: Aside from her dad, who passed away when she was six, Cassidy Jameson has only ever trusted one man: her best friend, Tyler. So of course she follows him to Texas when he leaves for college. She just didn't expect to be so drawn to their new roommate, Gage, a gorgeous guy with a husky Southern drawl. The only problem? He's Tyler's cousin.

Gage Carson was excited to share an apartment off campus with his cousin. He didn't mind that Tyler was bringing the mysterious friend he'd heard about since they were kids . . . until the most beautiful girl he's ever seen jumps out of his cousin's Jeep. There's something about Cassi that makes Gage want to give her everything. Too bad Tyler has warned him that she's strictly off-limits.

Despite everything keeping them apart, Cassi and Gage dance dangerously close to the touch they've both been craving. But when disaster sends her running into Tyler's arms, Cassi will have to decide whether to face the demons of her past . . . or to burn her chance at a future with Gage.

Review: I’ve been moody so far this week, which is not at all like me. A bit of gloom, mixed with a great deal of frustration, and now that I really think about it, a bit depressed. But from what? I’m normally sanguine about my life. What’s causing this?

It’s not research I’ve been doing for my first novel. The sheer breadth of it having become larger than I thought it would be, and it’s therefore a little intimidating. But it’s interesting to me, and I spark to it whenever I work on it. That’s not causing this mood.

Last Thursday, I was called to Paradise Elementary on my beloved University of Las Vegas campus to be a substitute library aide. Since then, I haven’t been called for any other library aide jobs. It’s not that I did a bad job. Far from it. It’s just that library aides tend to be absent less often than other positions in the school district. I love this job, and an elementary school library is where I want to be permanently. Something will come up. The mood is not from that.

I’ve been spending a lot more time on the computer, partly because of my research, but mainly because---dirty little secret---that’s where I read books to review for this site, despite being staunchly against eReaders. It’s not a change of heart. I can see the value they bring to those who like them for varied reasons, including those who are disabled and might not be able to hold a book for a long period of time. But it’s not for me. Never will be. And yet, this is the newly-arrived future of book reviewing, .pdf files to be read on the computer or through Barnes & Noble’s Nook program, or on reviewers’ own eReaders, saving publishers money they don’t have to spend to send physical copies in the mail if they do it like this. Many are. I’m not sure about most, but I know a great number of Young Adult publishers do it. I have the files to prove it. Admittedly, it’s also convenient because typing notes takes much less time than writing them.

Yet, since Sunday night, I’ve been increasingly dreading being on my computer. I’ve had a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I opened the Nook program. I found myself aching to go back to the library books I checked out that Sunday afternoon, including Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon. I wanted to be there more than here.

It turns out that the dread stems from one source: From Ashes by Molly McAdams. But I thought it was me. I thought there was something I couldn’t face in this novel about Cassidy, a horribly abused girl and her best friend Tyler, who has seemingly helped her through those years, even when it’s been at its worst, when she might have died from those beatings. That’s bad enough, and McAdams’ writing about that abuse by Cassidy’s mother and her stepfather is harrowing, unsettling, and a little bit frightening. The same goes for pages 94-107 when we see Tyler’s true nature toward Cassidy, a sense of bodily entitlement from those years of taking care of her, from being there for her, from being the only rock in her life. It makes your stomach churn, and it would be a reasonable reaction only if McAdams had earned it.

The bulk of the story takes place in Texas, where Tyler is going to college, and has insisted to Cassidy that she live with him and his cousin, Gage. There’s really no other choice because Cassidy has nothing back in Mission Viejo, California. The abuse her mother heaps on her may be resentment toward her for worshipping her late father, who died when she was six, who treated her like a princess, while Mother looks like she was on the sidelines for the entire time, calling her father to come home when she needed her, not being the one to comfort her. So when her father dies, her mother slips into liquor, more and more deeply, grieving in her own twisted way, and almost immediately marrying someone else, someone abusive, someone who her mother can relate to, can finally take out her resentment on Cassidy without it looking odd to her significant other. They’re two peas in a vicious, criminal pod. That’s what it seems like at first, until a revelation later shows otherwise.

So in Texas, Gage notices Cassidy after she accidentally spills beer on him at a party, and that’s it. Love at first sight. Love forever. But far be it from Tyler to support this, as he tells Gage to back off. Cassidy is hers and he doesn’t want him even eyeing her. But neither can deny the instant attraction between them, nor do they even realize for one second that Tyler is manipulating the situation, that he’s saying one thing to Gage, that he’s suddenly ok with him liking Cassidy, and then telling Cassidy that Gage is tired of her living with them, of being her chauffeur. Add to that Tyler telling Gage about having sex with Cassidy and Cassidy blowing him, when nothing of the sort is happening.

It’s hard to understand or even sympathize most of the time with Cassidy and Tyler. Gage is just as much a rube, too, but Cassidy is the one who has gone through the worst hell. She’s become so dependent on Tyler that whenever something seems to go wrong between her and Gage in the attraction, she runs back to Tyler. Over and over. Yes it takes a lot of time to recover from abuse, to finally see one’s own self-worth, but it’s frustrating when Cassidy doesn’t seem to realize that Tyler is, in many ways, just as bad as her mother and stepmother, just as abusive emotionally. What’s even worse is that when Cassidy’s mother comes to terms with what she has done, it was away from our eyes. McAdams makes that realization happen the only way it would seem to be reasonable, but it feels like we’ve been gypped. Could Cassidy have faced her mother, have told her what she thought of all those years, the hell she had been through? If she had grown stronger enough by those pages to do so, it would have been something to see. As it is, we keep waiting and waiting and waiting, not only for Cassidy to finally see herself as an individual and not always attached to Tyler, but for her to see the bastard that Tyler is and the utter good that Gage can do for her in her life. Gage goes through his own hell in the waiting, in all the time that he’s in love with Cassidy, two years’ total before it gets more serious. And that’s another thing: Time never stands still in this novel. Not that time is supposed to in any novel, but suddenly you’ll read in one sentence that a week has passed, and then a few pages later, eight months have passed. I’ve never known any other novelist so callous with time, and maybe they’re out there and I just haven’t gotten to read their works yet. Time ages characters, certainly, but it’s also what they do within that time, how they change within that time, that makes up the reason why we read.

From Ashes feels like dramatic inertia writ large. Cassidy and Gage go around and around and around and around, with Tyler, and without Tyler, and with Tyler again, and then Cassidy with someone else who isn’t Gage and around and around and around again. McAdams writes for the sake of writing, for prolonging the torture that she assumes we’ll go through in hoping for the best for Cassidy, that she’ll finally have the life she deserves, and now I know where that bit of depression has come from. McAdams doesn’t provide any relief from this intense situation, even for a page, or even a paragraph. Drama needs levity, not so much that it turns into farce, but enough so that a reader or viewer or audience member doesn’t sink into a deep funk that lasts as long as mine did. Why do you think Charles Dickens put a few eccentrics into his novels? He knew.

Struggling through From Ashes, I was reminded of An American in Paris, the 1951 Oscar-winning musical starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron in her film debut, and famed pianist/comedian/malcontent Oscar Levant.

In it, Kelly plays painter Jerry Mulligan, who lives in Paris and falls in love with Lise Bouvier (Caron), a young French woman who’s engaged to Henri Baurel (Georges Gu├ętary), a famous cabaret star who was her guardian during World War II, saving her life, and who’s in love with her. It mirrors Tyler saving Cassidy’s life and basically serving in the same capacity, but I worried while I was reading that From Ashes would turn out the same way, that Tyler would so easily let go of Cassidy after finding out that Gage is in love with her. I didn’t have to worry about that, but I didn’t feel that same interest in these characters as I did in the collection of them in An American in Paris. Yes, the abuse is horrid, and yes, Cassidy deserves better, but often, it feels more like we’re reacting to how bad these myriad situations are, rather than reacting out of caring for the characters. By page 172, my wanting to see Cassidy have a better life ground to a halt. I couldn’t take anymore. Inasmuch that I like Cassidy telling her side of what’s going on and then Gage and back and forth like that, it’s not enough to want to know more. I should not be feeling like this toward a novel. I wanted to get away as fast as I could from From Ashes. I shouldn’t want to get away from a book. It’s a book, after all! But here’s a sad rarity.

Review by: Rory

Rating: 1/5 DIAMONDS
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