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 which 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?
The proof of Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s first YA novel, Lies Like Wildfire, landed just after I’d finished reading the excellent Wicked Little Deeds and, eager for some more YA crime/thriller goodness and intrigued by the premise, I dived straight in!
Set amidst the blazing hear of Northern California’s fire season, Lies Like Wildfire is the story of Hannah, daughter of the local sheriff in the small forest town of Gap Mountain, and her four friends: Mo, Luke, Violet, and Drummer. Known locally as ‘the Monsters’, the five have known one another their whole lives – and are looking forward to one final summer of hanging out together before college.
But when the simmering tensions within the group reach boiling point, the Monsters find themselves accidentally starting a deadly forest fire that destroys their town and leaves death in its wake. Afraid for their futures, the group make a pact of silence. When one of the group goes missing after threatening to break their pact and tell everything to the police, it isn’t long before the lies – like the uncontrollable wildfire that sparked them – spread dangerously out of control.
With a fantastic premise, I had very high hopes for Lies Like Wildfire. And there was a lot that I enjoyed about this novel. In a note at the end of the book, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez explains that its genesis was her own experience of the Tubbs Fire, an uncontrollable wildfire that roared through her small community, burning for 23 days, causing $1.2 billion in damage and taking 22 lives. This personal knowledge of wildfire – of the sudden evacuation procedures, the fear, the anger, and the emotional toll of the aftermath – really comes across in the novel and, for me, the chapters where the fire was raging were the most compelling in the book.
Unfortunately I failed to find the same emotional connection to Hannah and her fellow Monsters. It’s hard to say too much without giving away elements of the story but, to be honest, I found Hannah to be a distant and difficult protagonist. Infatuated with her childhood friend Drummer and easily manipulated as a result, Hannah seemed to veer between resolute and chaotic, periodically stomping off into a mood whenever her police officer father or one of his colleagues asked her a question (and then wondering why she and her friends have become suspects in the investigation). I also felt as if her character changed completely over the course of the book and, whilst that can partly be explained by the emotional stress she undergoes, some elements of that change felt a little forced.
Meanwhile I found Drummer – the object of Hannah’s affections – to be emotionally manipulative, selfish and even a bit creepy at times. I get the feeling that Alvarez doesn’t actually want her readers to like Drummer – which is fair enough as characters definitely don’t have to be likeable to be compelling – but I’d have liked to get a sense of why Hannah likes him. From what I could tell, he treats her terribly for most of the time! The other ‘Monsters’ – Violet, Luke, and Mo – were more likeable but, alas, I didn’t feel like we got to spend as much time with them and, whilst the ever-shifting dynamics of a teenage friendship group are really well portrayed, I felt some of the subplots were wrapped up a little too quickly for them to real make an impact.
The story itself is fast-paced and compelling with lots of action and plenty of twists – although a mid-book twist involving a bear attack and a bout of amnesia really pushed the boundaries of plausibility for me and, I felt, provided a convenient way of extending a mystery that was otherwise wearing a little thin.
As you can probably tell, Lies Like Wildfire was a very mixed bag for me. I loved the original concept and the way that the author managed to really convey every stage of the wildfire on the page. And I felt that the emotionally charged dynamics of a teenage friendship group were really well portrayed – as was the tension of constant lying to friends, family, and the authorities. Unfortunately I just didn’t care enough about any of the characters to get really invested in the book and a couple of the plot points and twists fell somewhat flat for me.
Other readers probably won’t be anywhere near as picky as this. If you don’t mind an unlikeable narrator or five, Lies Like Wildfire is a compelling and twisty YA read and its tangled web of toxic friendships, love triangles, and lies is sure to appeal!
Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez is published by Penguin on 09 September 2021 and is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 15 September 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content by following #UltimateBlogTour and #TheWriteReads on Twitter and Instagram.
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