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.