Debut Tuesday Spotlight Review #3

A wildfire rips through Orange County and one girl knows she must stop it, even if that means betraying the boy she loves.

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5RATING

Genre: Contemporary/Thriller

Release Date: March 13th, 2018

Publisher: Razorbill

Trigger Warnings (if any): emotional/physical abuse, animal abuse

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):

The autumn morning after sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper loses her virginity, she wakes to a loud, persistent knocking at her front door. Waiting for her are two firemen, there to let her know that the moment she’s been dreading has arrived: the enormous wildfire sweeping through Orange County, California, is now dangerously close to her idyllic gated community of Coto de Caza, and it’s time to evacuate.

Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, as Audrey wrestles with the possibility of losing her family home, she also recalls her early, easy summer days with Brooks, the charming, passionate, but troubled volunteer firefighter who enchants Audrey—and who is just as enthralled by her. But as secrets from Brooks’s dark past come to light, Audrey can’t help but wonder if there’s danger in the pull she feels—both towards this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.

Review

“And last night, Saturday night, I thought I needed all of him, that he deserved all of me.

But I didn’t, and neither did he.

It’s so dumb. I know it’s dumb, but some days I wish I were still ten. Because, most days, okay all days, sex doesn’t even matter to me–it feels entirely abstracted from kissing, rarely a plausible action in my life. Maybe my head and my heart are broken. Maybe I simply haven’t matured, or whatever. Maybe I need a new body that doesn’t feel so foreign and strange. Maybe this is entirely normal, and I simply haven’t found others who feel the same. Maybe the others are all remaining silent like me.

Maybe I’m simply not there yet. Is that not enough of an answer?”

(pg. 149)

From page one, you’re plopped right in the middle of a wildfire. Literally. The fire that’s spreading across Orange County has finally neared sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper’s house, and she’s forced to evacuate. The fear, anxiety, and guilt are so palpable in just those first few pages that it’s hard to believe it could get any more intense.

But, oh man, it does. Told through beautiful prose in alternating chapters between the present and the past, Audrey introduces us to her life and Orange County. The present action takes place in one day, but the past is told in snippets, most of them focusing on Audrey’s growing relationship with a guy named Brooks, who takes her by surprise. It quickly becomes an isolated, toxic relationship for Audrey, and as more secrets comes to the surface in both timelines, the faster the fire moves towards destroying everything Audrey knows.

I loved this book. There are a lot of YA novels out there that for the most part accidentally glorify the “bad boy,” and the manipulative, abusive relationships that people fall into. It was a painful but honest portrayal of just how hard it is to leave a relationship when you love someone who is broken and are afraid of leaving them. Audrey had lots of flaws, but they only made me root for her more, because she was very much real to me.

Especially when it came to her outlook on sex. If you read the quote I picked above, then you’ll quickly realize that Audrey has been waiting to have sex, not for any reason that she can really pinpoint. It’s such an important topic in YA today. There’s nothing wrong with craving sex–it’s natural, it’s human, and scaring teens out of having sex is more damaging than teaching them to make safe decisions when it comes to sex and consent–and there’s also nothing wrong with not wanting it. What Ezell does in these passages where Audrey thinks about her body and her relationship with it as well as its relationship with other people is so important. There’s no preaching here, she simply suggests that sex is your choice and that consent is important.

Along with this, the book touches on some other meaningful themes, like mental illness, physical illness, and what it means to be displaced from your home. The last one is important and it actually lends to some of the lighter moments in the novel. They all had to do with female friendships and family.

That’s really what I loved about this novel. While most of it was about Audrey’s growing guilt as the fire rapidly spreads, there was an intimate focus on family relationships and what it means to be there for your family. You learn pretty early on that Audrey’s younger sister has struggled with Leukemia, but she’s recovering and on track to being a prima ballerina. They share a bond over dancing, and when Audrey begins to ditch Maya for Brooks, you see how her first real relationship with a boy is changing her.

I could go on forever about how much I adored this book. There were short chapters that made you feel like you were actually in California, and the atmosphere was intense and beautiful. It wasn’t hard to imagine how important this subject was to Ezell, because it was so present in Audrey’s narrative.

At the end of the novel, I needed a little more closure, but felt like the ending was representative of what a lot of families would feel in this situation. This book will not only look gorgeous on your shelf, but also give you flawed characters to root for, a place you wish you could save, and all of the elements of a solid thriller.


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