Review of ‘We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire’

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a compelling and powerful story about what it is like to be a woman in a world dominated by inequality.

Powerful Subject

We Are the Ashes We Are the Fire

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire
Joy McCullough
Dutton Books for Young Readers

First and foremost, this is a story about rape and surviving rape. I have no wish to trigger anyone or force anyone to relieve that pain. If you believe that it will do so, please stop reading.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire deals with rape. Em’s sister was raped at a frat party, and the story begins with Em and her family entering a courthouse to hear the verdict. Guilty on all counts. This verdict is a big win until the judge, an old white man, says time served.

It is terrible how realistic that is, but McCullough did a fantastic job of capturing the characters’ pain through their body language and exploring the rape narrative from Em’s perspective.

Em’s feminist and young perception gives readers a look into the world and the unfairness of it all. However, it has also affected her greatly. Filled with grief and anger, Em lets her emotions drive her to speak out and act out, even if that means hurting those she loves.

For Em, it is an extensive journey about learning to find hope in a world that seems so bleak and unrepentant. However, more than that, it is about learning to trust people, fight the good fight, fight for justice, and give a voice to those who feel like they do not have one.

Strong Characterization & Compelling Narrative

What also blew me away while reading was the way McCullough decided to tell the story. Following Em, she discovers the legend of a 15th-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, a woman legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims. Now Em cannot find any more information on her, and it is debatable whether she existed or not, but her legend inspires Em to write.

Through verse, McCullough explores the strength of women everywhere, and she is exploring their pain and perseverance. It is incredible to read this story, to see this legend come to life through McCullough’s view. What McCullough is also doing is creating Em as a character.

Through the storytelling, the reader sees Em, and we see her struggling with her rage and guilt. She has a fractured relationship with her sister, and she does not quite understand why. Em does not think about how her actions affect her sister, her sister, the victim who wants to move on and live her life. It is hard for her to reconcile her actions because she believes she is right. Don’t get me wrong, she is right, but the way she goes about it is wrong.

Nevertheless, through her ink, she grows and develops through the story, she begins to understand that the world will have challenges, it will be cruel and unfair, but that is no reason to give up fighting and to lose hope.

Final Thoughts

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a compelling narrative because of how powerful it is, how breathtaking it is. McCullough does an incredible job telling this story, lifting the veil of readers, and highlighting that hope is always on the horizon, giving a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Product Details:

Pub Date: February 9, 2021Page Count: 400ppAge Range: 14 & Over
ISBN: 978-0-5255-5605-3Publisher: Dutton Books for Young ReadersList Price: $18.99

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We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire


Writing Quality


Character Development


"Couldn't Put It Down"-ness


Intellectual Depth





  • Compelling
  • Thoughtful.
  • Intelligent.
  • Strong storytelling and characterization.

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