This was one of the big proof drops at YALC this year that I didn’t actually get a copy of. So I was really thrilled when it popped up on NetGalley, and even more thrilled when the publisher approved my request. So, by virtue of those two sentences, it’s worth noting that the publisher provided me with a digital copy of this book.
Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see …
16-year-old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t?
When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass—or the people by her side.
The beautiful, life-affirming debut from Erin Stewart that’s being called the YA answer to Wonder. Perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Nicola Yoon and John Green.
I very much enjoyed (and cried at) this beautifully touching story of Ava, a girl who suffered horrendous burn injuries in a fire a year previously that claimed the lives of her parents and her cousin. Left behind as the sole survivor, she’s trying to find her new normal in her new life with her aunt and uncle as parental figures, as all three of them try to navigate their terrible loss and forge a new path in life.
Thematically, this book reminded me a lot of Faceless, by Alyssa Sheinmel, which I also loved (I swear I’m not sadistic). This differed in that it starts quite a while after the fire, and Ava’s physical recovery is at quite an advanced stage. We come into her story as she begins to reintegrate into society, which takes the form of her starting at a new school. Her facial disfigurement makes her an instant target for attention, which is her worst nightmare, as she wants nothing but to blend in.
There are two very major characters in this book – Ava and Piper. Both scarred, damaged girls recovering from accidents that left them with burns, their friendship is really beautifully written as they help each other along the road to recovery, but with all the usual angst of teenage girls thrown in for good measure. A cast of backing characters in the form of school friends (and enemies) and Ava’s aunt and uncle add a little depth to the tale of these two girls, but it’s definitely the friendship between Piper and Ava that takes centre stage.
And yes, that pun is meant literally, as Ava is also trying to rediscover who she is as she tries to find out what parts of her life Before the Fire – like her love of musical theatre and identity as a drama geek – will transfer into her new life of Ava After the Fire.
There were elements of this book that I might have liked to see a little more of – of Ava’s connections with her past life, which she seems to have sloughed off like so much skin, and actually I would’ve liked to see more of Piper too, because while we discover some things about her, she’s certainly not given the same priority as Ava. I guess that’s understandable as it’s really Ava’s story, but I did feel a little bit like Piper deserved a tiny bit more attention. Still though. This is a beautifully written, lyrical, heartfelt story of a teenage girl finding out who she is, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will definitely look for more from Erin Stewart.