Matthew John Meagher
MR Publishing (2020)
Reviewed by Amy Lignor for Reader Views (12/2021)
I grew up in a very wealthy town. And, no, I was far from wealthy. In fact, my father was the caretaker for one of the immaculate estates and we lived in the ‘cottage’ at the back of the property so Dad could take care of this mansion… that had no heart. Why do I say that? Because half of the town was all about money, and they judged the other half of the town by how much or how little they had in the bank. There was a part of town called The Valley. In this area that some called the “other side of the tracks—which I found funny because there wasn’t a train anywhere near us—hard-working people scraped by, trying to pay their bills and get through life as well as they could. They had heart. The teens in this town had a difficult time because of this invisible line that was drawn between wealthy and poor. I saw some take to drugs or alcohol to deal with being put down by others who may have had a sports car to park in the high school parking lot, but never had a heart because they weren’t ever shown one. It may sound like such a simple “problem” but there were kids there who took their own lives because they believed they were not from the “right side” and, therefore, would never be a success.
When I read this book, although the scenery was different, the teens and their issues hit me right where I lived because I remembered seeing this, live and in person, when I was growing up. Think “West Side Story” (without the music), meets “The Hunger Games.” Add extra grit, and you have this book. Ashton is located in the Rocky Mountains in a place referred to as Powder Valley. Right next door rests the much wealthier and more polished, Cherry Ridge. Now, the Cherries are a group led by Sonny Gatson, who lives a high-brow life and certainly likes it. From Ashton we have teenagers that were not born into the ‘easy’ life; their group consists of leaders, Irish and Jester, and Benny, Curly, Twitch, and Mars, also known as “Quartermates.”
The interaction between these two groups is riveting, as the Cherries try to ‘take over’ the town of Ashton in order to transform them into what Cherry Ridge believes Ashton should be. As this transformation commences, with Ashton looking like it’s going to give up, these teens stand up and fight back. Ashton High, a school that is basically the pride and joy of the town, plays a huge role in this book because it’s the one thing the town loves; even though it has a background of pain, it’s also been the past winners of “The Powder Match” (an event I’d love to tell you about, but don’t want to ruin the read), where their competitors are, you got it… the Cherries. They haven’t won in a while, however, and they need to. The money they win from the event is what supports the town and keeps it running. The Ashes are already angry at the beginning of the book, believing they have no chance of ever winning the event again. What they don’t know yet is there’s a new “teammate” who has just moved to town, who plans to add her strong emotions and smarts to the fight. Her name is Rose, and her addition to this cast is one that inserts romance, action and, oddly, a snowboarder possessing the skills of an Olympian into the tale.
The deep intensity that this author writes with draws readers into a young man’s head as he opens the door to his world’ a world that includes loss and tragedy, friendships and anger for those all around him, and “calls out” to every YA who’s experiencing the same pain, confusion, social issues, bullying and hard choices teens face. The author shows how not to judge others upon looks, and why you shouldn’t. He delves into the pain, the ever-growing hormones of a teenage boy, and the strength and fight that can be found deep down inside – especially when you’re surrounded by people who will stick with you and do all they can to help.
I can’t say enough about this read. It’s real. It’s unique. It’s in-your-face. The action is super-cool. Mostly…it made me wish that a lot of people I knew way back when had been able to turn to this instead of alcohol to ease their own pain. They would’ve had a second chance. I give this as many “stars” as humanly possible.