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 Ickabog by J. K Rowling

The Ickabog

J.K. Rowling

Scholastic Inc., Fiction, Nov. 10, 2020

Pages: 304

Suitable for ages: 8 and up

Themes: Fairy Tale, King, Rumors, Lies, Evil, Monster

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Once upon a time there was a tiny kingdom called Cornucopia, as rich in happiness as it was in gold, and famous for its food. From the delicate cream cheeses of Kurdsburg to the Hopes-of-Heaven pastries of Chouxville, each was so delicious that people wept with joy as they ate them.

But even in this happy kingdom, a monster lurks. Legend tells of a fearsome creature living far to the north in the Marshlands… the Ickabog. Some say it breathes fire, spits poison, and roars through the mist as it carries off wayward sheep and children alike. Some say it’s just a myth…

And when that myth takes on a life of its own, casting a shadow over the kingdom, two children — best friends Bert and Daisy — embark on a great adventure to untangle the truth and find out where the real monster lies, bringing hope and happiness to Cornucopia once more.

Why I like this book:

J.K. Rowling has written a magical story for readers with big imaginations. It’s packed with silly humor, fun wordplay and a grand adventure. Cornucopia appears to be a happy kingdom ruled by King Fred the Fearless, who really is harmless and quite vain. Instead of caring about his people, he’s more interested in the lavish silk clothing he wears. If there is a problem, he’d rather leave ruling to his chief advisors and the evil Lord Spittleworth and his side-kick Flapoon.

There are many loving and honest young characters in the story like Daisy Dovetail and Bert Beamish, who are best friends until a dark cloud begins to move over the kingdom. Daisy’s mother’s is King Fred’s seamstress and dies suddenly finishing a new outfit for the demanding king. Not wanting to be reminded of her death, the king moves Daisy and her father to the outskirts of the kingdom. Then Bert’s father, a Major in the Royal Guard, loses his life in a suspicious accident. The evil Lord Spittleworth says Major Beamish is killed by the monstrous Ickabog. This is where the story takes a turn towards darkness.  Lies are told by Spittleworth, each grander than the first. Imaginations soar and the king and kingdom plummet into fear of the legendary monster living in the Marshlands. But brave Daisy and Bert are suspicious and decide to get to the bottom of things, so they journey to the Marshlands. (No spoilers beyond this paragraph.)

The plot is simple, but filled with twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and guessing what will happen next. There is a narrator that guides the story and gives insight from time to time. The chapters are very short, 4-5 pages, making this fairy tale a perfect bedtime read for children.

The Ickabog reminds me a bit of the fairy tales I read as a child in the late 50s. So it was fun to escape into the happy little kingdom of Cornucopia. Like the stories I read, there is good and evil, and cruel characters.  But I appreciated the strong theme about how rumors start and quickly get out of hand. Lies are told to cover up other lies, and chaos is unleashed. Rowling brilliantly shows how powerful fear and misinformation can be when perpetuated by the rulers of the kingdom. But in the end, the children lead the way.

Make sure you read Rowling’s Forward.  She began writing The Ickabod over 10 years ago. She read chapters to her children, who loved the story. But she set it aside and never finished the book.  When the lockdown hit last year, she completed the book and published chapters online for families to enjoy. She also invited children to participate in a competition and submit full-color illustrations of their favorite scenes from the book. The North American edition contains 34 illustrations from children in the U.S. and Canada.  I listened to a virtual program where the children talked about their delightful artwork and asked Rowling questions.  Make sure you check out the back of the book, where there is are thumbnail pictures along with information about the young artists, who range from 7 to 12.

J.K. Rowling is the author of the seven Harry Potter books, which have sold over 500 million copies, been translated into over 80 languages, and made into eight blockbuster films. She has also written three short companion volumes for charity, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which later became the inspiration for a new series of films, also written by J. K. Rowling. She then continued Harry’s story as a grown-up in a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which she wrote with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. She’s received many awards and honors for her writing. She also supports a number of causes through her charitable trust, Volant, and is the founder of the children’s charity Lumos. She lives in Scotland with her family.

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 purchased copy.