by Alice Hoffman
This little book has been lounging on the kids' bookshelf for a while. I bought it second-hand mainly for the cover. I could not find a pic of the back of the cover which is too bad because it is just as emotionally evocative but contrasted. Where Green, the protagonist, is lonely and searching on the front, she is transformed into Ash, someone untrusting and full of pain.
Green is the only survivor in her family of some kind of terrorist attack in a nearby town. Her world is left starkly empty and covered in ashes. Her beloved garden can yield nothing under these conditions. In self preservation Green changes her name to Ash and embodies her pain in her appearance; she shaves her head, sews rose thorns into her clothes, hammers nails into her boots and tattoos black roses with thorns and crows all over her body. Gone is the patient nurturer, drowning in her pain. But changes take place in her heart and her body as she slowly reaches out and tends to the pain of others without the strength to take care of themselves.
I thought this story a beautiful one. Green wears her pain on her sleeve literally. She desires to be someone else but, though for a little while she can pretend, she can never fully get rid of who she always was before her life was turned upside down.
I believe that this novel is written for a YA audience. The imagery, while raw and sympathetic, was laid on pretty thickly. There is no mistaking Hoffman's meaning. But for me this made no difference. I still loved it.
I can't decide if this is an allegory for the common struggles of teenage hood or if it's about the reactions everybody goes through with a traumatic experience. Green is suddenly left without her parents and she is sorely missing her sister who visits her in her dreams, a girl full of life and spirit. Could the sister represent childhood? A past self? Or maybe happiness? I suppose this is where the reader contributes to the story. For me, trauma leaves me feeling alone and self protecting, even hurting others to protect myself from being hurt again. But eventually the pain subsides and the essential person returns, worse for wear but the same in her being. This book encapsulates the transformation of innocence into experience with all it's agony. Those struggling with depression will see themselves within the pages and recognise the hope that is offered at the end.
Have you read anything by Alice Hoffman? Is her adult work similar to this? I'm hoping that it shares the same richness but adds some sophistication. Which of her books would you recommend I read next because I am most definitely reading more of her work.