Published by Albert Whitman and Company on November 1st 2016
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I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Under the Ashes by Cindy Rankin is an engrossing middle-grade historical fiction set during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Elizabeth “Littlebeth” Morgan is a spunky eleven-year-old who breaks all of the “rules” for girls. She runs too fast. She’s fearless. She speaks her mind. She’s very smart. And her parents just don’t know how to deal with her. When she saves her brother from a rattlesnake bite by cutting off the snake’s head, it’s the last straw for her parents. They ship her off to Aunt Sally in San Francisco, who will whip her into shape in no time. But Aunt Sally isn’t quite what Littlebeth expects. She owns and runs her own store and is in love with the Jewish man next door. Littlebeth befriends Mr. Steinberg and sees that he and Aunt Sally are meant for each other, despite their religious differences and Aunt Sally’s objections to their relationship. When the San Francisco earthquake hits, Littlebeth uses all of her wit and resources and spunk to survive in the face of terrible adversity.
I read Under the Ashes in one sitting. It is absolutely engrossing. It reminds me of books I used to read when I was young. Nine or ten-year-old me would have adored this book. Cindy Rankin creates a historically accurate narrative of the time period. The characters are so vivid that they jump off the page. I especially love the unlikely relationship Littlebeth forges with Mr. Caruso and the bond she has with Su-Ling and Grace.
She learns a lot about herself during her short time away from home, and that, I think, is one of the great things about this novel. She becomes more aware of other people’s feelings. She becomes aware of the political and racial issues of her time period. In some ways, she’s still the self-reliant girl she always was, but she becomes more self-reflective and more grateful for her family than ever before.
Under the Ashes is equal parts devastating and heartwarming. Littlebeth finds something good to think about during the most harrowing times and understands that sometimes laughter is the best medicine. I think that’s an admirable trait.
Under the Ashes is a must-read for kids seven and up and for adults who love historical fiction. The book is great for reading aloud with parents, especially for the younger ages, and for independent readers.
© 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.