Book Reviews

Review: We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire ignited a burning rage inside me. From the synopsis alone I knew it would. Sharp, painful, and emotional, this mixture of prose and verse is a story about survival, rape culture, and friendship. Keep reading this book review to find out my full thoughts.


Em Morales’s older sister was raped by another student after a frat party. A jury eventually found the rapist guilty on all counts–a remarkable verdict that Em felt more than a little responsible for, since she was her sister’s strongest advocate on social media during the trial. Her passion and outspokenness helped dissuade the DA from settling for a plea deal. Em’s family would have real justice.

But the victory is lived. In a matter of minutes, justice vanishes as the judge turns the Morales family’s world upside down again by sentencing the rapist to no prison time. While her family is stunned, Em is literally sick with rage and guilt. To make matters worse, a news clip of her saying that the sentence “makes me want to use a fucking sword” goes viral.

From this low point, Em must find a new reason to go on and help her family heal, and she finds it in the unlikely form of the story of a 15th-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the Bookish First. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Tw: rape mentioned, sexism, panic attack

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a book that will ignite your rage. It’s so fiercely feminist in the ways it discusses a culture that ignores and excuses. The way women and girls are taught to be ashamed, to be blamed for their assault, to become ostracized for speaking up. The rampant sexism and culture that does not believe victims and excuses perpetrators. It’s a world we know, one we live in, like fish in water. Em’s story is one about coming to terms with the ideas of justice.

Knowing that justice sometimes doesn’t win. That, despite fancy words and sentences, it cannot address the roots of the problem. All the people who stood by and said nothing, if not defended. McCulllough brings her skill in writing verse novels not only to feature some moving verse sections, but also to infuse that lyrical quality in the prose. It’s a book that was full of me nodding my head. Me clutching my book and screaming to the skies. Em has to figure out how she can come to terms with the women society ignores. The accusations and stories that are never told. And what we can do when we have the power of speech.

Self-Care and Resilience

There were so many elements I loved about We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire. The family in this book made my heart ache. All their little mannerisms, their details and literature references! At the same time, We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is very much a story also about self-care and resilience. We will have moments where we will burn up and out, but it’s about what we do with the moments afterwards. The sexism and the world can try to keep us running on empty, but if we don’t take moments for ourselves, we will extinguish. We can get wrapped up in our cause, but we have to take care of ourselves. If we descend, if we are worked into a frenzy of which we cannot escape, we won’t be there tomorrow to fight.

Found Family and Stories

In this book, I love the core of family and found family. The familial relationships were so tender. You know those ways our parents know just the ways we need to be left alone. The times we need some food left outside our door. Additionally, We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire examines found family. The people with whom we choose to battle dragons. Another element I love was the ways McCullough examines the ignored stories. The holes in history. All the voices who have gone ignored. It’s our job to find the words to tell their story. To share their pain, to rally ourselves and fortify our hearts. To honor their place, stories, what could have been, and what we will never know.


Feminism pounds through the pages of We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire. It’s not about damsels in distress needing knights to save them. It’s about a world where they have to be on guard, keep finding themselves in situations of danger. What do we do when defense, prevention, and justice aren’t possible? How do we move forwards? It’s also a story about mistakes, about being so obsessed, we don’t see the ways we hurt the people we love. We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is such a powerful book. About resistance and survival being personal to each of us. About the moments afterwards, how we survive to fight another day.

Find We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


Do you have a favorite verse novel taking on the patriarchy?

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.