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Who by Fire

3.31  ·  Rating Details ·  596 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister, Alena—an incident for which Ash blames himself—caused an irreparable family rift. Thirteen years later, Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, cutting himself off from his mother, Ellie, and his wild-child sister, Bits. But soon he may have to face them again; Alena's remains have finally been unc ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 23rd 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published 2008)
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Nov 13, 2008 Joey rated it really liked it
The title grabbed me because it takes me to one of my favorite High Holidays passages...the long list of all the possible ways to die in the coming year. Why this fills me with happy childhood memories I cannot say!
Apr 25, 2009 Wendy rated it really liked it
It is rare I read a book longing for more when I reach the end. It was that way with Who by Fire, however. I wanted the story to go on, to know what would happen to the characters next. I was not ready to close this chapter on their lives. Not just yet. I am not talking about those types of endings that leave you in the lurch or where you aren't satisfied. Rather, I am talking about a book that has you so invested in the characters’ lives that you aren't ready to let go.

Alena was only six years
Dec 27, 2008 Marty rated it it was amazing
Shelves: harpercollins, 2008
I really enjoyed this book. It got me thinking about a lot families, about the role I play in my family and how it's changed over the years. My family was all together for the first time in a couple of years over Christmas, and sometimes I just wanted to quit playing that role. (I tried not making nice conversation for about 30 seconds at Christmas dinner - and it was an epic FAIL.) It was interesting to think about that stuff within the context of this book and the holidays.

The story in Who By
Jul 13, 2009 Lisaleh rated it really liked it
I would rate this 3.5 stars if I could. This was a quick read. An interesting portrait of a dysfunctional family 10 years after the disappearance of the youngest child. Essentially, the novel explores ideas of guilt, blame and redemption. The story was told in the first person from three alternating perspectives: Bits, the 23 year old eldest daughter (a messed up, sexually provocative school teacher), Ash, the 20 year old middle child and a ba'al tsushva who has escaped his "old" life to study i ...more
Aug 11, 2009 Jessica rated it really liked it
My review is not completely unbiased. A friend's sister's friend wrote this book, so by Jewish geography rules, I think we are third cousins or something.

The story follows siblings Bits and Ash. When they were children, someone kidnapped their six-year-old sister, Alena, a nightmare that tore apart the family. Bits copes by sleeping around; Ash by moving to Israel and living as an Orthodox Jew. When their mother tells Bits that Alena's remains were discovered in a park, Bits flies to Israel to c
May 15, 2013 Diary rated it really liked it
I grabbed this book randomly at the library and quite enjoyed it. I am of Christian faith and quite enjoy learning about other religions and I found Ash experience living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel a well written experience. This book had extream emotional depth concerning dealing with trauma, the ways in which people seek out other relationships and what people employ for simple survival. I read the book in a very short time and although it was deep, it was easy to continue through b/c there ...more
Jun 22, 2008 eb rated it liked it
Told in three first-person voices, which is wonderful and problematic--wonderful because we get into the heads of a young yeshiva boy, a slutty 20-something girl, and their worrywart mother--and problematic because 1. the boy's perspective strains credulity 2. the leaps between voices occur every three pages or so, which jostles, and 3. the mother is given short shrift.

Jess, I'm torn about this one, and it's stressing me out. The dialogue is some of the best I've read in a few months. It snaps
Apr 17, 2009 Lauren rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 26, 2016 Marvin rated it liked it
Story of a Jewish brother and sister, and their mother, who've been living devastatedly, more or less, since the abduction of the family's youngest daughter some ~15 years earlier. Asher, the brother, lives as an Orthodox lifestyle in Israel while his sister, Bits, just generally kind of sleeps around Boston to deal with her pain. Their mother struggles to keep them close, especially wanting to bring home Asher, who she considers to have joined a cult. I found Asher's story most compelling and b ...more
Apr 01, 2012 Florinda rated it liked it
I don't personally subscribe to any form of religious fundamentalism, but reading Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God several years ago did give me a little more insight into its appeal for some people. After years of self-inflicted guilt over the disappearance of his little sister Alena, Ash (Asher) Kellerman finds that the disciplined study and strictly-defined lifestyle rules of Orthodox Judaism just might give him some answers, and makes the choice to immerse himself in a Jerusalem yeshiva ...more
Jul 17, 2012 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jewish-fiction
This one really quickly wormed it's way into my heart. Though at times the characters, the protagonists in particular, came off as a bit extreme in their flaws. Was it necessary for Bits to attach herself to every strange man who crossed her path since Alena's disappearance? Ellie and Ash were similarly one-dimensional when it came to pursuing their narrow visions of the truth. All of these characters ultimately moved past this, however, especially Bits and Ash. On the whole I had less sympathy ...more
Apr 26, 2009 Jaspreet rated it really liked it
I actually finished this book over a month ago while I was in India doing shopping to prepare for my wedding. Since returning to the States, I have not had much time to compose a brilliant review. In the interest of wanting to cross an item of my to-do list, I am going to crank out a review RIGHT NOW! Oh the pressure of spontaneous brilliance.

Here is a summary of the plot from the author's website:

Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister Alena, an incident for which
Sep 09, 2011 Tanya rated it it was amazing
There are MAJOR SPOILERS at the end of the review. So don't click "read more" if you don't want to ruin the surprise. And trust me if you plan on reading this you DONT want to ruin the surprise!


LOVED this book. I love Spechler's writing style it's natural and smooth. I normally criticize books written from multiple points of view but Spechler not only pulled it off she made it flow beautifully. At first I didn't realize that i
Jan 20, 2009 Courtney rated it really liked it
Here’s a basic recap of the book. It’s not thirteen years since Bits and Ash’s younger sister, Alena, has disappeared. Bits buries her grief in multiple meaningless sexual encounters and Ash has escaped to religion. The family is Jewish, but Ash has taken it to a whole other level and has moved to Israel and is living as an Orthodox Jew - following all the rules and studying in Yeshiva Hillel. Their mother, Ellie, has decided that Ash’s form of Judaism is akin to a cult and joins a support group ...more
Nov 20, 2008 Lara rated it it was amazing
I recently gave two books five stars. Then, when I started thinking about writing these reviews, I thought about offering the books to anyone who wanted them…but then realized that I simply cannot part with Who By Fire. So, even though I loved them both, I loved Who By Fire a little bit more.

Who By Fire is a story about a lot of things. The book is set thirteen years after the youngest child in a family has been kidnapped. The remaining children, a son and daughter, are in their early twenties.
Jun 14, 2009 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Who by Fire tells the story of Ash and Bits, a brother and sister whose younger sister Alena had been kidnapped more than a decade ago. When their mother informs them that her remains have finally been discovered, it’s up to wild child Bits to go to Israel and convince her now Orthodox Jew brother to come home for a memorial service—no easy feat as he’s been out of touch with the family since entering the yeshiva.

The book is told from shifting perspectives, really getting into the minds of the v
Nov 29, 2008 Ti rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ti by: Book Club Girl
Shelves: books-sent-to-me
Sent to me by Jennifer over at Book Club Girl.

Here's the blurb from Barnes and Noble:

"Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister, Alena - an incident for which Ash blames himself - caused an irreparable family rift. Thirteen years later, Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, cutting himself off from his mother, Ellie, and his wild-child sister, Bits. But soon he may have to face them again; Alena's remains have finally been uncovered. Now Bits is traveling acros
Laura Gurrin
Mar 06, 2011 Laura Gurrin rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
Thirteen years ago, Alena Kellerman was kidnapped and never seen again. Now, her mother, sister, and brother, are still trying to find their places in the world after her disappearance severed nearly every connection they had with normal life. Elder sister Bits tries in vain to make connections through shallow contacts with men, brother Ash looks for a home in Orthodox Judaism, and mother Ellie, lives in fear her remaining children will vanish, but never notices that they have actually been gone ...more
Feb 08, 2009 Ron rated it really liked it
This story is split up into three different family perspectives: Asher, a college dropout who's plunged into Orthodox Judaism and moved into a Jerusalem yeshiva; his older sister, Bits, who flies out to the city to bring him home for the funeral of their younger sister (whose body has finally been found after she was kidnapped more than a decade ago); and their mother, Ellie, who met a man in a support group who promises he can "deprogram" Ash from the "cult" he's gotten involved in.

Spechler bal
Laura Clark
Feb 02, 2014 Laura Clark rated it liked it
I liked and disliked this book all at once. I like the story line but did not like that there was no resolution with a main part of the story. The book is more of an emotional journey than an actual story. I think the characters had character traits that were very dislikable but I did find myself understanding them- I don't necessarily agree with the choices that author had them make- like having sex at 10 (Bits), self-imposed isolation (Ash), and constant nagging (Mom). Additionally, I had a re ...more
Morninglight Mama
Feb 04, 2016 Morninglight Mama rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Intense. Painful. Provocative. If I had to choose just one word to describe this novel, it would be tough, but those might be my top three finalists. I was a fan of the multiple perspectives in the storytelling, and the voices of the individual characters were apparent from the first sentence of each chapter. While the three main characters lived such different lives in the time since their family trauma, they shared a common thread of pain, loss, guilt, anger and blame. I became so invested in ...more
Ken Deshaies
Jul 08, 2011 Ken Deshaies rated it it was amazing
What an amazing first book for a totally empathetic author. Richly sprinkled with Yiddish terms (many of which I had to look up), but in each case, they were necessary to carry the true flavor of the characters. This is a narrative work in which the events evolve through the voices of three people, mother, son and daughter. Each chapter is in another voice, and you never get them confused. It's a dysfunctional family that was torn apart by the kidnapping and disappearance of another sibling seve ...more
Sep 04, 2016 Kim rated it really liked it
Aside from hitting one theme a bit hard (I get it about Bits' issues and how they manifest), this book is pretty incredible. I'm always a sucker for stories about Judaism, and this tale of a brother's turn from semi-secular/Reform upbringing to a devout Orthodox Judaism the rest of the family doesn't approve of completely drew me in. An old family tragedy begat more family tragedies begat this religious conversion, which begat the whole complicated tale of this book. Every conversation feels rea ...more
Aug 14, 2012 Gillian rated it liked it
Spechler's novel is a page turner. I think a book can be deemed "good," in two ways. One, the quality of writing and two, the desire of the reader to continue. These two things don't necessarily go hand in hand.
The novel is one of those books you want to read until your done. However, the writing wasn't spectacular. Just my opinion. The strength of the book lies in Spechler's ability to hold and create tension. Mystery. Plot twists.
To me, there were many cliches and sometimes the characters fe
Jan 19, 2010 Sarah rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing, and I couldn't put it down. It is very obviously inspired by (realated to?) Holden Caulfield, but with orthodox Judiasm and international travel and kidnapping and sex addiction and cult de-programing. AND it made me want to travel around Isreal.

The character Bits was so satisfyingly messed up; it has been a while since I encountered a character who was so totally, unhealthily out-of-control. There were moments when I actually felt a little nauseous, because she was such a
Oct 26, 2008 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008-reads
The conflict between Jews within the same family who interpret the word "Jew" in radically different ways is so rich a vein for compelling drama that the other "gotcha" aspects of Spechler's story -- the Mystery of the Missing Sister, the Case of the Heroine's Lost Sexual Boundaries, the Adventures of the Hot Former Frum Girl, the Cult Rescue Connection -- ended up cheapening it a bit without being compelling in and of themselves. Her choice to have all the major characters get their say as narr ...more
Jan 02, 2009 Chelsea rated it really liked it
4 and 1/2 stars for this one. A really different book. Picked it up on a whim. This book was a quick read for me, which I love. Bits and Ash are brother and sister. Their younger sister is kidnapped when she was very young. They both feel horrible guilt about the event and their mother does as well. Their father cheats on their mom and takes off to make another family. Resentment and bad feelings all around haunt this family. 13 yrs later Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel and Bits sleep ...more
Kelly Hager
May 10, 2010 Kelly Hager rated it really liked it
This is about a family that's basically imploded since the youngest daughter was kidnapped. It's 13 years after the kidnapping and the older two children (a boy and a girl) are now grownups.

The girl, Bits (short for Beatrice) is promiscuous (to put it very mildly) and pretty screwed up. She doesn't really have friends, and she barely talks to her brother, Ash.

Ash, meanwhile, has become an Orthodox Jew and is living in Israel. He doesn't talk to his mom or sister.

I got this because it sounded lik
Jan 16, 2009 Jon-Erik rated it really liked it
Shelves: judaica, fiction
This is not even remotely my kind of book. First of all, I don't read much fiction. Second of all, this kind of family drama just isn't my cup of tea. Despite all of that, I really liked this book.

I connected with a lot of the metaphors in this book. I could relate to most of them. I have a feeling that they will misfire with a lot of people, who probably would end up hating this. The first large group there is the approximately 98% of the world that isn't Jewish. Next would be people over 40 wh
Apr 08, 2009 Jill rated it really liked it
This book is a taste of Jewish religion, life and traditions. The tragedy that splinters the family and the way each member comes to term with it is the story of this book. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the different views of the same accident through the eyes of each character. Strong religious ties both draw the family together and pull it apart . The idea of reinventing oneself after a tragedy is the on-going theme in the book. No one is the same after tragedy… and can you come back ...more
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Diana Spechler is the author of the novels Who by Fire and Skinny.
More about Diana Spechler...

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