Nothing Left to Burn totally caught me by surprise. It’s kind of described as this YA contemporary, but to me it’s more like a YA Contemporary Thriller/Mystery.
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.
TW: self harm
I’m not really sure what I was expecting with Nothing Left to Burn but whatever it was was nothing like what happened. I was expecting this like find-yourself story with this forest fire background, but what it ended up being was this almost thriller-mystery atmosphere that just rose and rose.
I saw a lot of myself in Audrey – and a lot of who I was in high school. This both made me really happy, and also a bit nostalgic, and even sad. In high school I was very much like Audrey. I felt like I was living on the outside and then I had this toxic relationship. Would my ex have been like Brooks? Maybe actually.
They have this mutually toxic relationship, like a wildfire, where they just fuel it. I really loved this metaphor because I was recently talking to someone about how relationships are like fire – the quick to start, quick to burn out, or the passionate one, or the slow burning ones. Not to mention how many love language and love words are actually fire metaphors (consume, burn for you, etc.).
Suffice it to say, I could really identify with Audrey and her relationship to Brooks in a way I wasn’t sure I would have from the summary. And because of this, it enriched the whole reading experience. It felt almost like an ode to my younger self – the self that didn’t understand that we can’t always save someone or wait for them to change, the self that didn’t know that she was fueling a fire, the self that felt her family’s pressure.
(Audrey’s best friend is also bisexual).
Nothing Left to Burn starts off with a fascinating hook. Immediately we feel similar overwhelmed because there’s a lot we’re catching up on. It almost feels like we’ve walked into the heat of the flames both in the intensity of the writing and the story. Audrey is making sense of her lost virginity, this forest fire, and events that are alluded to. The tension only rises as Ezell has these alternating chapters of the past with the present that are almost like flashbacks. Actually, that’s probably what they are. And they build in tension, fear, and panic.
(It also made me think a lot about the importance or the pressure we put on virginity and this ‘rite of passage’).
I deeply connected to Audrey and her sort of awakening in this book. It was a book that was deeply about our relationships to other people and to ourselves. There were catchy and evocative one liners and this book was rife with tension. There’s something intoxicating, and enthralling, about being lost in the fire – watching it burn and consume. It’s hard because we want to protect the people we love, the toxic relationships we think we can save, that we ignore our get feeling, but we can’t and it’s hard process a hard life a hard thing to break off contact, to douse the flames and face the night
Make sure to check out Nothing Left to Burn on Goodreads.