We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire

Dutton. Feb. 2021. 400p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525556053.
Gr 9 Up–When a drunk university football player and fraternity boy rapes her sister Elinor, Marianne fights back in a blog, losing her place at a prestigious journalism summer program. The trial ends with the rapist being found guilty, but receiving no jail time or punishment, and Marianne comments that she feels like learning to use a sword. When the media picks up the statement, they stereotype Marianne’s Guatemalan American family as violent. Alienated from friends and even, in a sense, family, Marianne spends the summer trying to deal with the untenable situation by writing a verse novel about the medieval Marguerite de Bressieux, who fought rapists. While the writing and structure of the book is superb, with the two stories of rape and degradation being told back to back, the lack of background about Marguerite may be confusing to teen readers. As the book proceeds, the parallels become much clearer, but since very little textual information is given early on, Marguerite’s story is often vague. Partially because little is known about Marguerite and Marianne is using her imagination, this approach makes sense, but may not be entirely effective. McCullough’s characters are well-drawn, including a strong Latinx family and an endearing best friend who is transgender. Marianne’s narration is especially compelling as she deals with her sister’s rape and shows how it impacts the entire family.
VERDICT A well-written book on an important topic that will appeal to a mature and discerning reader.

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