Sabaa Tahir wins the award of being the only YA author to make it on to my list. I read a significant amount of YA in high school and early into my time at college. As I become more widely read, my tastes began veering into literary fiction and thrillers, so YA dropped by the wayside. An Ember in the Ashes is the first YA book I’ve read in about a year and a half. And I loved it.
I’m a firm believer that some books are meant for you to read at a certain time and place in your life. An Ember in the Ashes was meant for a night two weeks ago when I couldn’t sleep. After how heavy Beloved was, I need this book to rejuvinate my reading spirit and it did. There is a special place in my heart for dystopian fiction. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Brave New World and The Road. This book was coming home to one of my favorite genres. Also, it’s based off ancient Rome, so I loved it pretty much immediately.
Laia is a Scholar and a slave under the Martial Empire. Elias is one of the finest soldiers that the Empire has ever seen. When Laia’s brother is taken captive by the Empire, she joins the rebels to try to save him. Elias wants to be free from the atrocities he is forced to commit, but escape isn’t easy. Both Elias and Laia must discover how to protect the ones they love and fight for freedom.
Less then ten pages in, I found myself asking a question that I kept returning through as I read: “Why are we so drawn to dystopian/resistence literature? What is it that we want to fight against?” It wasn’t long after this that one of my Facebook friends posted an article from the New York Times addressing dystopian fiction, although in a slightly different context. However, the article made one point that seemed to answer my question:
The genre has proliferated in part because it captures the sense of despair that many writers say they feel in the face of cyclical violence and repression. … Publishers say the books have caught on with the public in part because they distill a collective feeling of frustration.
While this article focuses on Middle Eastern writers, I think it rings true here. Raise your hand if you’re frustrated with the world we live in. I’ve yet to meet one person that is 100% thrilled with our current political situation. We’re frustrated and we want to push back at what’s causing our frustration. While we might not be like Laia or Elias, we want to rebel against the things that limit our freedoms, be it a bad job, responsibilites of adulthood, or bikers on the road (seriously, use a bike trail).
Dystopian fiction, especially this one, offers up a form of catharsis. As we watch Elias and Laia fight for freedom and the things that are important to them, we get to imagine, even for a second, that we’re fighting back against our own oppressions, however big or small they may be.
I fervently hope that instead of closing the book and letting the fight die, we carry our own little rebellions beyond the pages of a book and out into the world. Just don’t hit any bikers.