Published by Penguin Genres: Thrillers, Young Adult
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The monsters have known each other their whole lives. This is their final summer before college - time to hang out, fall in love and dream about the future.
Until they accidentally start a forest fire that destroys their hometown and leaves death in its wake.
Desperate for the truth to remain hidden, the group make a pact of silence.
But the twisted secret begins to spin out of control and when one of the friends disappears they all become suspects.
We know how it starts but where does it end?
Secrets and lies are everywhere in this compulsive page-turner, perfect for fans of
One of Us is Lying
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Occasionally, a young adult thriller comes along that sets the literary world ablaze. Think ‘We Were Liars‘ or ‘One of Us is Lying‘, both fantastic novels where all is not quite as it seems among a group of life-long friends. Now it’s been a few years since those novels were published, and there’s a small void in the teen thriller genre. Step forward Jennifer Lynn Alvarez and her incredible new novel Lies Like Wildfire. This novel has everything: secrets, promises, sex, action and tonnes of intrigue! If you’re after a read to ease ‘end of Summer’ blues as we step into Autumn then you need to grab this book.
While the set-up for Lies Like Wildfire is far from original (teens hang together for the last time before college) Alvarez doesn’t hang around in that familiar territory for long. Within a few chapters, huge errors of judgement are made causing devastation and terror to the teens and those they love. Alvarez brilliantly depicts those ‘Oh No’ moments as time slows down and events unfold. There are several moments like this in the novel but the first, as a spur of the moment reaction fueled by anger causes a lit object to fall in a tinder-dry forest, is the most spectacular and effective. Instantly, our protagonists realise the danger not only they are in but the whole town below and rush to rectify the issue. But it’s dry season. They all know they are fighting the flames in vain. All they can do is run. And lie.
The characters in Lies Like Wildfire feel realistic and are easy to either instantly like or dislike. (Personal preference about these characters will come into play for each individual reader so I won’t prejudice opinions with my views on them). By keeping to the traditional small group of friends, Alvarez doesn’t complicate the narrative. While the five fit the classic young adult character tropes (Princess, Jock, No-hoper, etc) they are still written in a manner that makes them stand out from the usual crowd.
Hannah is the daughter of the local sheriff, devoted to her horses and forever haunted by the events that took her mother. Drummer is a ladies man, irresponsible but loyal. Luke’s life has fallen apart since his parents split and he’s been left at the mercy of his abusive mum, only hanging around to protect his younger brother. Mo is a devoted family girl, traditional but excited for her future. Violet has everything: money, beauty, intelligence and attitude, she’s also the only member of the gang to not permanently live in Gap Mountain. Together, they form the ‘monsters’ named after their reluctance to take the lead in a school production of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ when they were little. Hannah is the most realised of the five mainly due to her role as the narrator and it’s through her eyes we see everything unfold. Is she reliable? You’ll have to decide that one for yourself.
Alvarez has utilised a couple of really clever techniques when writing this novel. Firstly, the chapters are all dated and timed, and once the fire begins gives the reader an insight into the urgency surrounding the situation. I loved this aspect of the book as it keeps you connected throughout the story (and it’s essential as the plot progresses). Secondly, Alvarez has split the story in two. It’s no secret that Violet disappears, thought to be murdered (it’s the opening chapter before jumping back five weeks) and the second half of the novel covers the search for her body and the investigation into what happened. This second section is where Lies Like Wildfire veers into familiar young adult territory, but Alvarez keeps the narrative fresh, the dialogue punchy and the outcome surprising.
Personally, I found the first half more interesting and involving (the scene as they escape through the town is full-on heart-in-mouth stuff) and I appreciate the author bringing the dangers and aftermath of forest fires to the attention of younger readers. These moments in the novel are derived from Alvarez’s own experiences and it shows. Only those who have lived through such an event could recreate it so realistically. Little touches, such as spraying horses with a mobile number, add an authenticity that draws you in deeper each time. My only gripe is I would have loved to have read in the second half more of the after-effects of the fire on the town and its inhabitants beyond the main group of friends.
Lies Like Wildfire is a truly fantastic novel for young adults and above. I would add that there are moments that some may find upsetting, but nothing that I would consider needs a content warning.
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