Ashley and his brother Mikey are the two sons of Shaun McCarthy, well-known activist and union supporter. Having been brought up in the shadow of his father’s activities, Ashley is ready to savour the independence of uni studies and hostel life, but his break from home doesn’t last long. A late night knock on the door brings the police, bad news and a return to Wellington, where the news only gets worse. Ashley, his brother, and two other teenagers they barely know, Travis and Jiao, set off on what begins as an escape from danger, but turns into a mission to uncover the truth and save the innocent.
Ash is forced to cope with grief, loss and betrayal, confront his own prejudices and take on responsibilities he feels too young for. He has to try and work out who he can trust and risk getting it wrong for the sake of doing what he believes in. He sees his own failures and mistakes: Ash by name, ash by nature. The stuff that gets discarded. The lightweight residue of other people’s fiery lives.
But we also see him through the eyes of others who recognise all the things he gets right: If I’d ever had a son, I’d want him to be just like you. Don’t ever change, Ashley McCarthy.
This is a fast-moving and thought-provoking story meant for an older YA audience, partly because of the stronger language (which you can read more about on Mandy's blog) but also because of the more complex issues involved. Terrorism and political intrigue make for a gripping plot, while at the same time, the book dwells on love, loyalty, the difficult business of growing up and the nature of family: I finally understand where she’s at. No family means no life. No Love, simple as that
Despite the chaos unfolding around them, the book ends on a note of hope. There are good people out there – some of whom Ash and his friends have already met - who just need to be awakened to take action on the side of right.