“Ashes to Asheville,” by Sarah Dooley

Sarah Dooley

Reviewed by Phyllis Wilson Moore

Ashes to Asheville (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017), Sarah Dooley’s third novel, is a book with appeal for teens as well as adults. In the story two women attempt to create a family unit, each bringing a young daughter into the meld. The family does well together, but the outside world is not always welcoming to a family with two moms and no dads.

When young Fella’s mothers die, the court intervenes and assigns her care to a blood relative, her little known but caring grandmother.

As a result, Fella is separated from her Mama Shannon and her best buddy, Mama Shannon’s daughter, Zany. The result is “too many mixed up feelings” for all concerned. Life is confusing at Grandmother’s house. There is more food to eat, more money to spend, and Fella has her own room. But the rules are different. She misses Mama Shannon and Zany.

Unexpectedly, late one night Zany shows up with a secret plan. The two will take the urn containing the cremains of Fella’s mother to Asheville, the family’s happiest past home. Zany wants to go to Asheville—now. With the typical judgment of a teen, Zany says they can make it from West Virginia to North Carolina before Fella is missed. Fella, not so sure this is such a great idea, reluctantly agrees.

There is humor to spare as the trip unrolls and unravels. The themes are mature but Dooley handles them with appropriate humor and powerful images. I especially relate to how the resourceful girls cope with problems and deal with the issues that arise. A hide-away dog passenger, an anxious grandmother, and a friendly boy add to the commotion. This is a timely novel of contemporary issues and the characters warm the heart. More, please.

Sarah Dooley is a graduate of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. She has lived in an assortment of small West Virginia towns, each of which she grew to love. Dooley is a former special education teacher who now provides treatment to children with autism. The winner of the 2012 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, she has written four books and inadvertently collects cats, a hobby she and I share.

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