Joiner, Sara. After the Ashes. Holiday House 2015 278p $17.95 ISBN 978-0-8234-3441-1 ms/hs Historical fiction VG-BN
Sara Joiner has created quite an intriguing character in Katrien. Living with her father and aunt in Java, she has some rather unusual interests. She adores Darwin’s theories and she collects insects, “not bugs, but insects,” as she likes to correct people. At odds with everyone around her, she has a particular dislike for Brigitta Burkart, her nemesis, who seems to have interests that are the polar opposite of Katrien’s, such as social skills and traditional “woman’s work”. Katrien’s aunt and father are further challenged when Katrien insists on running around with her local Javanese friend, Slamet. With her Asperger-like ways, Katrien soon finds herself in hot water with Vader (Father) and Tante Greet. Both want her to develop her role as a future wife and housekeeper, but Katrien resists. While the rising action develops, the reader learns all about Krakatau, for the setting is the summer of 1883 when it erupts with devastating results and takes thousands of lives. About halfway through the book, Joiner’s story really begins, for it is here that Katrien manages somehow to survive, aided by her expertise in Darwinian theories, when all others around her perish. The drama is increased in part, by her new friendship with Brigitta, who also survived. The two girls wander through the jungle searching for water and safety and form a new relationship based on survival. Their relationship in surroundings that would make less strong-willed children give up is intriguing. Joiner’s descriptions parallel the film “The Impossible”, and that is a bit distracting, especially when the girls find a baby, as did the mother and son in the film. Nevertheless, there is more than enough originality in Joiner’s descriptions to support her dedicated research on the topic of volcanos and tsunamis, and readers will learn a lot. Young readers will remember this book forever. There is something compelling about surviving against impossible odds.
This book is a very good choice for both middle- and high-school libraries. It will fill a role in teaching history with its depiction of Krakatau’s explosive devastation, and the formation of a friendship between two unlikely young ladies will entertain immensely.
Summary: Katrien’s sworn enemy becomes her survival partner when Krakatau erupts violently. Together the girls face adversities such as the loss of family members and homes, as well as other horrors from the tsunami that follows the eruption.
Volcanos-Fiction, Survival-Fiction, Friendship-Fiction -–Martha Squaresky