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YA novel set in England and India

26th May 2021

The Ash Museum by Rebecca Smith, YA novel set in England and India, a tale of innocence and discovery.

YA novel set in England and India

Beautifully conceived and plainly told in a soft and gentle style, The Ash Museum tells the story of nine-year-old Emmie’s quest to discover what happened to her father and his birth parents in India. The opening chapters are set in the 1970s somewhere in Sussex, and depict the casual prejudices and embarrassing ignorance of the times with gentle irony as young Emmie’s father Jay Ash is roped into helping organise the local fête.

Jay was an orphan born to Indian parents in World War Two, reared by an English family and then packed off to boarding school. He has no recollection of his birth parents and no interest in revisiting his past. He is more concerned with dealing with the everyday matters he is faced with. The narrative is soon taken up by his daughter Emmie as she longs to find out the truth about her paternal grandparents. Her quest is diverted when she makes some fascinating discoveries in the local museum.

From there the story is taken up by various characters and flits about through time; numerous short chapters are interspersed with letters, lists and newspaper cuttings in what amounts to a pot-pourri of engaging vignettes. And as the story unfolds, the chapters themselves relate to artefacts in the fictitious Ash Museum. A clever device, and one that works well in the context. The result is an entertaining and fascinating read.

I found the story of Jay the most compelling of the storylines as it is here that we get a partial view of British India in the 1930s. The Ash Museum is infused with a sense of place that tends to sit more in the background as the author is more concerned with social history, yet the atmosphere of India is inescapable. Smith has a knack for getting inside the thoughts, emotions and quirks of the casual and the every day. It is in this respect that The Ash Museum shines.

The Ash Museum is an endearing coming-of age-tale, and the simplicity of the writing lends the novel a definite YA feel. Suitable for adult readers who enjoy a light and easy read.

Guest Review by Isobel Blackthorn

Isobel is a prolific Australian novelist. She writes both contemporary/literary, thrillers and dark fiction. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and via her website. 

YA novel set in England and India

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