Published by Razorbill on March 13th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
Source: First to Read
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from First to Read. All opinions are my own.
Heather Ezell’s Nothing Left to Burn is a captivating debut novel that spoke to me on many levels. On one level, it’s a compelling story about growing up, falling in love, family, and the lengths that we’ll go to in order to protect those we love. In addition to being a coming of age story, however, it’s a suspenseful tale about a community fighting wildfires that threaten to destroy their homes and lives.
The novel follows the story of sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper and opens with her reflecting on the fact that she lost her virginity the prior evening. Her thoughts are interrupted by firefighters pounding on her door. The firefighters inform her that the wildfires they’ve been monitoring are now dangerously close and Audrey’s entire neighborhood is therefore under mandatory evacuation. Audrey’s parents and sister are out of town so it’s up to Audrey to gather up any precious belongings and get them out of the house in the twenty minute window she has been given. Pushing her thoughts about the prior evening aside, Audrey rises to the occasion, packs her family’s belongings, and heads for safety.
While she is waiting for her family to join her, Audrey spends much of the next 24 hours worrying about how she may lose her family home. The current dangerous situation also has her thinking back to happier, more carefree times such as the previous summer when she first met and fell in love with her boyfriend, Brooks. As she relives some of the memories of their budding relationship, however, she is also forced to recall that not all of their times together were great and that there’s more to Brooks than meets the eye, and not necessarily in a good way. He has a dark past that is slowly revealed to Audrey over time, and even though she loves him and wants to protect him, she fears she may be in over her head and realizes she has to make some hard choices.
Audrey is my kind of main character. She’s not perfect by any means and doesn’t always make the best choices, but her heart is always in the right place and she will clearly go to the mat for those that she loves. Her devotion to her younger sister Maya is especially touching as we see when after she evacuates, Audrey learns from a friend that Maya was secretly keeping a kitten stashed in her bedroom closet. Horrified by how distraught Maya would be if her kitten were to die in a fire, Audrey heads back into the danger zone to try to retrieve Maya’s pet. The idea that she would possibly risk her own life for her sister’s happiness was just so touching.
It was very easy to become invested in Audrey and her well being after that, and I was especially concerned for her well being as she reflected on her relationship with Brooks – how wonderful it had begun and then how increasingly troubled and dark it became as Audrey learned more and more about Brooks’ past. Ezell did a beautiful job of portraying not just the budding romance but also the many internal conflicts raging in Audrey’s mind as she thinks about the dark secrets she has learned about Brooks. There’s a lot going on in Audrey’s head and Ezell really captures that complexity and makes the character leap off the page.
Aside from Audrey, I was also a big fan of how the book is structured. The story is presented to us from Audrey’s perspective in chapters that alternate between the present and the past. The present chapters focus on the life-threatening wildfires and all that is happening regarding evacuation and fire containment efforts, while the other chapters focus on Audrey’s backstory and some internal conflicts that she is clearly experiencing regarding her new boyfriend. As the narrative flips back and forth between past and present, we are slowly fed key details that reveal what is causing Audrey so much distress and how it relates to the events of the present. The author does a brilliant job creating suspense by telling the story this way and I loved watching everything unfold.
Finally, I was captivated by the overall atmosphere of the novel. It’s a bit dark and dangerous, both in terms of Audrey’s thoughts regarding Brooks and in terms of the threatening wildfires that are looming all around Audrey’s community. Ezell really made me feel like I was right there in the middle of the action and danger, which made it a real page turner for me as I waited with bated breath to see what would happen.
My biggest issue with Nothing Left to Burn was that I found a couple of the plot twists to be predictable. I think I would have enjoyed the story much more if I hadn’t guessed those so early on.
Even though I did predict a couple of the plot twists, I still really enjoyed reading this book. Between the story of Audrey and Brooks and the tense story of the encroaching wildfires, Nothing Left to Burn is an engrossing story that kept me thoroughly engaged from start to finish.
The autumn morning after sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper loses her virginity, she wakes to a loud, persistent knocking at her front door. Waiting for her are two firemen, there to let her know that the moment she’s been dreading has arrived: the enormous wildfire sweeping through Orange County, California, is now dangerously close to her idyllic gated community of Coto de Caza, and it’s time to evacuate.
Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, as Audrey wrestles with the possibility of losing her family home, she also recalls her early, easy summer days with Brooks, the charming, passionate, but troubled volunteer firefighter who enchants Audrey–and who is just as enthralled by her. But as secrets from Brooks’s dark past come to light, Audrey can’t help but wonder if there’s danger in the pull she feels–both toward this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.