Publisher: Penguin Books (Trade Paperback – 14 September 2021)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 371 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Prepare to see the strongest of friendships burnt alive by fire, lies and deceit, in this startling and powerful young adult thriller by amazing author Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Lies Like Wildfire.
Lies Like Wildfire was a really compelling and exciting read that ended up being one of the better pieces of young adult fiction I read all year. This was the debut thriller novel from Alvarez, whose previous work has primarily included middle-grade fantasy novels, such as her equine-based The Guardian Herd and Riders of the Realm series. I was actually surprised to learn that his was Alvarez’s first thriller novel, as it was really good, presenting the reader with an untenable and desperate scenario and forcing several life-long friends to make some hard and terrible decisions.
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?
Wow, now this was such a great book. Lies Like Wildfire has a brilliant and powerful plot that was extremely clever, emotionally rich and very shocking, all at the same time. The book follows a group of childhood friends, known as the Monsters, who accidently start a forest fire during a summer outing. Terrified of California’s incredibly strict fire laws that harshly punish even accidental offenders, the group attempt to cover up their actions as the fire races towards their town causing all manner of death and destruction. As the fire rages, the group makes a pact to keep the secret, but lies, guilt and personal vendettas soon lead to terrible choices, as the truth bursts out and even more lives are ruined in the fallout.
I loved this brilliant book, and Alvarez has come up with such an impressive scenario for it. Told from the perspective of one of the Monsters, Hannah, this entire novel unfolds in a rush, with the readers barely getting time to breathe as devastating events and terrible secrets are thrust before them as part of this addictive and powerful narrative. Alvarez ensures that the readers are hooked early in the book, especially as the opening scene gives a sneak peek to events halfway throughout the narrative. The story then jumps back to the events that led up to the fire, showing the mostly innocent group as a careless accident threatens to ruin their entire lives and everything they know and love. Alveraz does a brilliant job of producing the ultimate no-win scenario, with the protagonists caught between their own guilt and the harsh consequences for their unintentional actions.
This fantastic introduction leads to the destructive early scenes of the wildfires that ravish the protagonist’s hometown. These scenes are pretty damn devastating and very well written, as Alvarez perfectly captures all the horror of an incoming fire and the panic and pain it can cause (it’s very realistic, and those people triggered by wildfires or bushfires might want to avoid it). However, this destruction is nothing compared to the guilt, public shame, police prosecution, and disintegration of friendships that occur in the aftermath of the fire as the friend’s first attempt to cover up their involvement, and then limit the blame they receive as they start to get found out. Despite their guilt in this matter, you cannot help but feel for the characters, especially as Alvarez does an incredible job making them very relatable, and the circumstances surrounding their crime could honestly happen to anybody. However, the real meat of the story involves the powerful drama that emerges because of the fire, as this lifelong friendship is pushed to the limit, not just because of the actions of the characters, but because of jealousy, family hardship, and the stress of lost futures, that drives all of them to desperate action.
This leads to the second half of the novel, when one of the Monsters goes missing in mysterious circumstances. Evidence soon points to members of the Monsters being involved, potentially to stop the missing person from revealing the groups involvement to the police, and the group is riven by further mistrust and interrogation. This second half of the book is incredibly fascinating, especially as the readers are left unaware of who could potentially be involved as the only point-of-view character, Hannah, suffers from amnesia brought on by a bear attack. While I usually dislike an amnesia inclusion in a novel, it works extremely well in the context of Lies Like Wildfire’s plot, even the bit about the bear attack (it’s a clever, if devastating, inclusion). This lack of memory from the protagonist really keeps the reader on their toes and the sudden mystery is a compelling and fun addition to the plot. I personally became ultra-invested in this book at this point, not only because I wanted to find out what had happened to the missing character, but because I was enjoying the complex character arcs and the quickly decaying personal relationships that bound them together. The final reveal about who was responsible and why is brilliantly done, and I deeply enjoyed the various character reactions that occurred around it, especially from the protagonist. This ended up being quite a complex and deep narrative, and it is one is perfect for teenagers and older readers, as everyone can get really invested in the intelligent and emotional plot.
Overall, Lies Like Wildfire was a brilliant and powerful debut thriller from Alvarez, who came up with an amazing concept and turned it into an outstanding read. I loved the great blend of thriller and young adult drama, especially as it produced a complex and moving tale of youth, disaster, mystery, and the tenuous ties that bind us together. Readers will swiftly become entranced by this excellent and compelling tale, and I really found myself getting drawn into the amazing character driven tale of lies and deceit. I am extremely glad that Alvarez decided to dive across into the thriller world, and if Lies Like Wildfire is anything to go on, she has a really bright future in it. I look forward to seeing what other books Alvarez produces in the future, and I am definitely grabbing a copy of her next book, Friends Like These, when it comes out next year.