By Cynthia Ayala
“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 is 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 is 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. However, as secrets from Brooks’s dark past come to light, Audrey cannot help but wonder if there’s a danger in the pull she feels–both toward this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.” —Goodreads
An intense and enthralling coming of age story that is uniquely told and gripping. Audrey has come a long way in her relationship with her boyfriend Brooks, a character with a haunting past and an obsession with fire. It is hard to believe that this beautifully written and constructed novel is a debut. The pace is impressive as it splits the story into two timelines, going back to when Audrey first met Brooks to the current situation where the an out of control fire in the forests of California. Wildfires are an event that the reader can not only imagine perfectly but an event that the readers can empathize with because wildfires happen all too often on the news. Moreover, on that note, the writer notes the tension and the loss the character experiences. So much is happening all at once, and the story captures that. But not only that, the fire reflects Audrey’s relationship with Brooks.
Audrey is a seemingly lost character, lost in the sense that she does not know what she loves in life, doesn’t know what she wants in her life. Moreover, the fire is the perfect image for that situation. Fire is both beautiful and deadly at the same time. It has such vibrancy but is capable of such destruction, much like her relationship with Brooks. In the beginning, her relationship with Brooks is bright and burning, he makes her think about what she wants to do with her life, and she admires that about him, it is what draws them together, this need for comfort and wholesomeness. Together they both feel as if their lives are whole. However, that is all a façade, and Ezell unravels that bright façade, burning through it, burning through the lies and half-truths that have begun to define their relationship.
The defining qualities of the relationship are why the pace of the story is so important and while the back and forth works so amazingly with this novel. It flows so well, keeping the pace of the story moving, never losing momentum and thus never losing the reader. The uneasiness of this relationship, which becomes very toxic and possessive, ultimately draws the reader into the story. Brooks is not an unlikable character per se, but he sparks uneasiness. Even before the Audrey realizes something is off about him, the reader can sense it. That is what is so beautiful about the writing, the structure and word choice, the action surrounding the dialogue creates such wonder at times, but also an awareness that this relationship is doomed.
Audrey’s character development is also amazingly structured. The reader can see her struggle to find herself in this world and come to peace with many of the decisions she has made in her life, her pain and her desires that seem to confuse her, taking away her sense of identity that she longs to find. Her narrative is incredibly relatable to the character because, at one point or another, everyone feels lost, especially in high school and college where the idea of finding one’s self is so pressed upon. However, through the narrative and the flashbacks, Audrey’s sense of identity grows, her character develops, and it is incredible to see it unfold between the pages.
As a debut novel, it is incredible. The story flows perfectly within it is fast pace, keeping the reader gripped to the pages. (★★★★☆ | A)