Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Lies Like Wildfire

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

Delacorte Press, Fiction, Sep. 7, 2021

Pages: 384

Suitable for ages: 14 – 17 and adults

Themes:  Best friends, Wildfires, California, Lies, Missing persons, Mystery

Book Jacket Synopsis:

We are the monsters — Mo, Luke, Violet, Drummer, and me, Hannah. It’s not what it sounds like, though. Just a nickname from when were little kids participating in a play.

We were at Gap Lake, the deepest in the mountains, and our favorite swimming hole. It was a hot, dry summer afternoon like every other one. And we knew to be careful. When you live in a small California forest town, you know more than you ever want to about wildfires.

But that day there was wind.

We didn’t mean to do it. But we did. And now one of the monsters is missing and everyone’s eyes are on us. This could ruin us. So we did what we had to do. We lied. And we have to keep lying. Telling the truth won’t erase the past.

We can’t crack. Sometimes good people get reckless and do bad things. And if there’s one thing people hate, it’s liars.

Why I liked Lies Like Wildfire:

Wow! What a thrilling read! Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s debut YA novel is a fast-paced mystery with many unexpected twists and turns — realistic fiction at its best. Set during the fire season in Northern California, readers will be glued to her gripping, haunting and heartbreaking story about what happens when a group of close friends make a big mistake and lie. 

The five main characters in the story are multi-layered and complex. Hannah, the daughter of the local sheriff, narrates the story. She is the group protector. Mo (Maureen) is the group caretaker who makes sure the group has snacks and beverages for their outings. Luke is the reckless one and is on probation for vandalism. Drummer is the flirt. And Violet is the rich outsider, who spends every summer with her grandmother. They’ve just graduated from high school and are looking forward to one last summer together before they start college or jobs.  

The ever-shifting dynamics of this teenage friendship group is well portrayed. Readers will observe it in their growing tension, toxic interactions, love triangles and lies. When one member of the group begs the the group to tell the truth, the other members refuse. The friend suddenly disappears.  (No more spoilers.)

The plot was well-developed and included other subplots — a bear attack and a bout with amnesia. The ending completely surprised me. And I’m still pondering the final chapters. It shocked me and made me think a lot about responsibility.

This novel is a great class discussion book about choices, loyalty, lying and faults. One reckless act ignites a fire that destroys a sizable portion of a community and claims lives along its path. What would you do?  Could you live with yourself knowing lives were lost and neighbors and friends lost everything? How does one move forward with your life in the aftermath of so much destruction? What about integrity?  Would you tell the truth?

Alvarez’s novel is based on her own personal experiences of living through the Tubbs Wildfire in Northern California. She knows the stakes, has relied on the Sheriff’s Nixle messages that alert residents to the location and direction of a fire, the deployment of firefighters, the containment level of a fire, and the orders to evacuate. She knows the emotional and physical toll it can take on residents in the aftermath of a monstrous fire. And she did extensive research into wildfires. Readers will learn a lot about how just one ember from a cigarette can quickly ignite dry pine needles and spread out of control within minutes, and how trained investigators can locate the starting point of a fire. Expert storytelling! 

Note:  For fans of Alvarez’s two middle grade fantasy series, The Guardian Herd and Riders of the Realm,  her realistic novel, Lies Like Wildfire is for teens over 14, young adults and adults. There is language and sex that is not appropriate for younger readers. 

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez earned her BA in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of two middle grade fantasy series, The Guardian Herd and Riders of the Realm, and is the Sonoma County coordinator for SCBWI. Jennifer supports public libraries by volunteering for her county’s library advisory board. Lies Like Wildfire is her debut young adult novel and her first thriller. She lives on a small ranch in Northern California with her family, horses and more than her fair share of pets. Visit her website or on Instagram and Twitter.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Copy reviewed from a library book.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Brain injury, Memory, Family relationships, Moving, Farm life, Missing persons, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too — always leaving a bad first impression. Her idea of a welcome wagon came in the middle of July, during my first Iowa heat wave, which was as hot as you know what.”

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She is the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to about the brain. And she wants to ride into her first day at her new school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. Gwyn is definitely not the kind of girl you forget.

But that’s just what her mother has done — forgotten. Gwyn’s mother, Vienna, hasn’t been able to remember anything past the age of 13, since she suffered a hypoxic brain injury. Gwyn and her little sister, Bitty, don’t exist in Vienna’s mind. As Gwyn tells Vienna’s new nurse, “we’re practically orphans.”

Gwyn’s father is obsessed with solving the mystery of Vienna’s brain.  He moves his family from New York to Crow, Iowa, where he and Vienna lived as children. He hopes that going home to Crow and surrounding Vienna with familiar friends and family, will jog her memory and help in her recovery.

As soon as they arrive in Crow, Gwyn is hot on the trail of a different case — one she thinks can actually be solved. Farmer Wilbur Truesdale is missing and there’s only one person who could know what happened to him: her brand new next-door archenemy, Gaysie Cutter.

The more Gwyn goes looking for answers, through, the more questions she encounters — about Wilbur, about Gaysie, but also about the mother she’s never gotten the chance to know. Gwyn’s determined to hunt down the truth about everything, but what if the truth isn’t as simple as pointing the blame at someone? What if sometimes the most terrible things that happen aren’t actually anyone’s fault at all?

Why I liked this book:

Amy Makechnie’s debut novel is complex, heartbreaking and hopeful. Her great opening immediately draws readers into the story. The vivid setting, poignant narrative, suspenseful plot and extraordinary characters create and unforgettable experience for readers. Her storytelling is richly crafted and heartwarming.

Gwyn is a genuine and unique character with whom you feel an immediate emotional bond. She is smart, curious, imaginative and jumps to conclusions a little too quickly. Her mother’s hypoxic brain injury impacts Gwyn and forces her to grow up too quickly. The author beautifully weaves Vienna’s injury into the story as a part of Gwyn’s life experience — it’s hard to “not exist” in your mother’s eyes. In her pursuit to solve the mystery about Wilbur’s disappearance, Gwyn uncovers her mother’s past and realizes how much she is like her.

There is a cast of quirky secondary characters that add comic relief. There’s Gaysie, a giant woman who lives in a rundown house with a “backyard that looks like an art exhibit”and is known for burying dead things on her property. Gwyn become best friends with Jimmy, who is always up for an adventure, and Micah (Gaysie’s son), who likes to wear bright pink shorts, sparkling silver shoe laces and is a target for school bullies.  Gwyn’s dentist father, Jed, is devoted to his wife, and Nana, is protective and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

Teens looking for something new and creative, will find The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining read. The characters will stay with you long after you finish.

Makechnie’s story also touched me on a personal level. Like Gwyn’s mother, my brain was deprived of oxygen following an unfortunate mishap nearly 15 years ago. This is the first children’s novel I’ve read where a hypoxic brain injury is mentioned. It took me back to my injury and made me think about how difficult it was on my family, who was loving, patient and supportive during my years of recovery. Fortunately my children were grown. Brain injuries vary and each person has unique symptoms and outcomes.

Thank you Rosi Hollinbeck for reviewing and recommending this book to me on your wonderful website. 

Amy Makechnie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where shoe once tried to sail to the Mississippi River on a large piece of Styrofoam (she didn’t make it). The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is her first novel. Amy nurtures her fascination with the brain and human body by teaching anatomy and physiology to high school students in a small New England town, where they dissect hearts and memorize long anatomical words. She is the mother of a wily flock of children, all of who provide daily inspiration for writing. You can visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.