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Ashes of Gold

About The Book

In the “thrilling…masterful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) conclusion to the Wings of Ebony duology, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Nicole Yoon calls “bold, inventive, big-hearted, and deeply perceptive,” Rue makes her final stand to reclaim her people’s stolen magic.

Rue has no memory of how she ended up locked in a basement prison without her magic or her allies. But she’s a girl from East Row. And girls from East Row don’t give up. Girls from East Row pick themselves back up when they fall. Girls from East Row break themselves out.

But getting free and finding her friends is only half the battle. Rue vows that when she reunites with them, she will find a way to return the magic that the Chancellor has stolen from her father’s people. Yet even on Yiyo Peak, Rue is a misfit; with half a foot back in Houston and a heart that is half human, half god, she’s not sure she’s the right person to lead the fight to reclaim a glorious past.

When a betrayal sends her into a tailspin, Rue must decide who to trust and how to be the leader that her people deserve, because if she doesn’t, it isn’t just Yiyo that will be destroyed—it will be Rue herself.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Ashes of Gold

By J. Elle

About the Book

When Rue’s attempt to secure the Ghizoni from the General’s attack failed, she was captured, leaving her people in a situation graver than ever. With the help of Jhamal and a cast of new and returning allies, Rue is freed and is now more determined than ever to reclaim Ghizoni magic and territory. Even still, her previous failure at Yiyo Peak leaves her with doubts that she can be the leader the Ghizoni people need. In search of concrete answers and sound guidance, Rue plans to raise the Ancestors from the dead, but her confidence wanes after hearing a prophecy revealing that she will soon be betrayed. Cast into a whirlwind of high-stakes situations, Rue is challenged by competing feelings: mistrust of those around her and unwavering courage as she works to restore magic to her people, reinstate the legacy of Ghizon, and represent the Ghizoni and East Row roots that make her who she is.

Discussion Questions

1. What were your initial thoughts, questions, or predictions as you read the opening prologue? Did you find yourself making connections back to the prologue at any point throughout the book? If so, when?

2. Throughout the story, Rue battles with feelings of self-criticism, particularly as she reflects on her inability to save the Ghizoni from the General’s attack on Yiyo Peak. Do you believe self-criticism helps or hurts when trying to complete a goal? Feel free to draw references from Ashes or from your own life.

3. “Embracing my father’s heritage, my people here, is one thing…but he’s right, understanding what it means to be Ghizoni is something different entirely” (Chapter Eight). Discuss Rue’s journey from embracing to understanding her Ghizoni heritage. Be sure to reference specific examples from the text.

4. Within the Ghizoni tribe, we are introduced to three distinct clans: the Yakanna, the Beerchi, and the Gahlee. How do these internal distinctions influence the greater fight between the Ghizoni and the Grays?

5. Taavi, in discussion with Rue, states, “Trade is a funny thing. When interests align with people you despise, you may find yourself at the same table” (Chapter 17). Have you ever found yourself in alliance with someone unlikely? What happened? Did you achieve your intended outcome?

6. In your opinion, why did the Ancestors choose Rue as the savior of the Ghizoni? Do you agree or disagree with this choice? Support your answer with textual evidence.

7. “The side of right isn’t hazy. There is no neutrality anymore. You’re either supporting the tyrant or fighting to see him fall” (Chapter 12). Do you believe we can ever be neutral in times of social unrest? Why or why not?

8. Jhamal, Kai, Zora, and Taavi all commit acts of betrayal, though their intentions are considerably different. Do you believe that betrayal is ever justifiable? Why or why not?

9. If you were Rue, would you choose to have your memories restored, knowing that you would learn of Jhamal’s betrayal? Why or why not?

10. Throughout Ashes, we learn of Ghizoni rites and rituals—burials, the election of a tribal leader, and the raising of the ancestors. How do rites and rituals influence how we perceive ourselves as members of various cultural groups and identities, if at all? Feel free to draw connections and examples from your own cultural heritage or background.

11. Bri is loyal in her fight against the Grays, a group that she once considered herself to be a part of, but she still maintains her love for her family. Share a moment in which you chose against your closest family members or friends. How did you reconcile choosing what you felt was right, with going against relationships with those you love?

12. After speaking with the Ancient Ones, Rue finds that the Ghizoni’s magic can only be restored by returning the magic-infused onyx to the ground. What were your first impressions of this revelation? Of the task of retrieving all of the stolen onyx? Did you expect it to be easy, why or why not?

13. Discuss the various ways in which the Macazi sought to protect themselves, and how they compare with that of the Ghizoni, Dwegini, and Zruki. What do you notice?

14. Though Rue is exceedingly hard on herself, the author balances her criticism with compassion from those closest to her. Discuss a time in which you were shown compassion after making a mistake. How did that influence your next steps? How might things have gone differently if not for the kindness of others?

15. Were you able to predict Totsi and Taavi’s relationship to the General? If so, what clues gave it away? If not, were you surprised?

16. Compare and contrast the values and battle strategies of Rue, the Beerchi, and the Yakanna. What do you notice in your comparison?

17. Have you ever betrayed or been betrayed by someone you are close to? What happened, and how did you make amends, if at all?

18. Bri struggles with her ingrained perceptions of people from the various social groups of New Ghizon. Discuss a time in which you attempted to break free from stereotypes of a person or group of people. What challenges did you run into, if any? How did you overcome them?

19. Why do you believe Totsi left the coins and bone for Rue’s encounter with the Seer? Feel free to draw additional textual evidence from Wings of Ebony.

20. Rue has romantic feelings for both Jhamal and Julius. Compare and contrast the attributes you believe Rue is most attracted to in each. Then discuss who she would be most compatible with long-term. Be sure to include textual evidence to support your stance.

21. Like the Macazi, in our own society survival tactics are not always loyal or lawful. Choose a major social issue and discuss some of the survival responses that people have had to it. How would you resolve this issue in a way that is fair and equitable for all?

22. From the beginning of the book, Rue questions the fit of her Ghizoni identity. Once you’ve read Ashes, describe in your own words what it means to be Ghizoni.

23. Discuss Julius’s role in helping Rue save Ghizon. Do you feel he should have been present despite having no magic? Why or why not?

24. “Joy is the greatest form of rebellion” (Chapter 8). Do you agree or disagree with this Ghizoni belief? Why do you think Jhamal feels this way?

25. What were your thoughts on the story’s ending? Are you satisfied with how things wrapped up? Share why or why not.

Extension Activities

1. The practice of body ornamentation is common in various cultures and can hold particular significance to those who do it. Ashes of Gold takes great care to describe in lush detail the ways that the Yakanna, Beerchi, and Gahleet clans adorn their bodies in reverence to their elders and core values. Identify a cultural group of interest, and research one or two ways that they practice body ornamentation. Be prepared to describe your findings, and include photographs to share with your peers.

2. Rue’s inability to remember what happened after the fall of Yiyo dictates many of her actions moving forward. Imagine that Rue never lost her memories. Based on what you know of her character, create a chart mapping out what you think her actions and resulting outcomes would be. Be prepared to support your reimagined authorial decisions with textual evidence.

3. Ghizoni tribal elders guide the values and attributes embodied by their descendants. Choose an ancestor of your own, relative or otherwise, and identify two to three values of theirs that you carry on as a descendant. Like the Yakanna’s coveted armor, create an artifact that embodies your ancestors’ values.

4. Write a one-paragraph rationale to explain who your ancestor is, the values of theirs that you embody, and how your artifact represents those values. Be prepared to share outloud with others.

5. The book ends with Rue opening a community center that allows the people of East Row to visit and experience Ghizon. Write a short story chronicling the first time that Ms. Leola, Tasha, or an East Row resident of your own design visits Ghizon. Be sure to draw on their existing character arc and personality traits as you write.

6. Once coronated, Rue signs a few foundational laws. Though everyone will be trained in talents that suit them, only brown-skinned Ghizoni will yield magic. Imagine it is five years after Rue became queen, and you are her trusted advisor. Write a letter in which you evaluate the effectiveness of her laws thus far and offer suggestions for amendments and/or new legislation.

More from J. Elle

Wings of Ebony

More Like Ashes of Gold

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Melanie Kirkwood Marshall holds a BA in Secondary English Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.Ed in Reading Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught in many learning contexts from High School ELA teacher to Primary Literacy Interventionist. Currently, Melanie is completing her doctoral studies in Multicultural Children’s Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.

About The Author

Photograph © Chris Spicks Photography

J. Elle is the author of the instant New York Times and Indie bestseller Wings of Ebony, a YA novel about a Black teen who must lean into her ancestor’s magic to protect her inner-city community from drugs, violence, and crime. Ms. magazine calls it “the debut fantasy we need right now.” She also wrote its sequel, Ashes of Gold. Elle is a former educator and first-generation college student with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in educational administration and human development. When she’s not writing, Elle can be found mentoring aspiring writers, binging reality TV, loving on her three littles, or cooking up something true to her Louisiana roots. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (March 16, 2023)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534470712
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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