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We Are the Ashes, We are the Fire

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From the author of the acclaimed Blood Water Paint, a new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister’s rapist escapes with no prison time.

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 short 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.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a searing and nuanced portrait of a young woman torn between a persistent desire for revenge and a burning need for hope.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published February 9, 2021

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Joy McCullough

14 books295 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 232 reviews
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.6k followers
October 22, 2020
Who does not want to read about medieval women taking up swords, donning knights' armour, and killing their rapists on the battlefield? Especially when the title's so good.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,535 reviews32.7k followers
March 22, 2021
‘a woman broken, rebuilt, can conquer any sword.’

violence against women, victim shaming, and unaccountability are intertwined topics that i could stand on my soap box and preach about until my last breath. but GR is not the place for that.

just know that the topic of this book is very important to me. i have no doubt readers will see themselves in nora, knowing how it feels to be attacked, or in em, knowing someone who has been attacked and needs help.

while the necessity of the content and the relatability of certain character situations are praise-worthy, i did find the execution to be lacking. it feels like JM was trying to be too politically correct and forward thinking, thus the characters come across as caricatures. it just made a serious situation feel insincere. i also found myself skimming through the sections told in verse, which is surprising because i loved JMs ‘blood water paint,’ which is told completely in verse. so im not quite sure why it didnt work for me here.

however, these things dont negate the importance of the message of this story, which is why i cant give this less than 3 stars.

NOTE: if alternating prose/verse isnt your kind of thing, or maybe you prefer a nonfiction perspective on this topic, i would highly recommend reading ‘know my name,’ which i feel discusses this subject more effectively and honestly.

3 stars
Profile Image for Melanie (mells_view).
1,711 reviews334 followers
February 9, 2021
“People are so fucking awful. But they also make things so beautiful they break your heart, you know?”

Trigger Warning - rape, bullying, trauma discussion, gore

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is an incredibly well written story within a story. It’s half first person narrative, and half verse. This first person part of the story follows Em Morales before and after her older sister’s rape and the following trial. You see that her family is supportive and close, sort of living in a happy lyrical life bubble, but after her sister’s attack things change. Of course they change. We follow Em and see from her POV how rape affects someone and the people around them as well. How a conviction can feel hopeful and then a sentencing becomes a let down. How speaking out against a rapist truly affects the lives of a victim/survivor, even though they’ve done nothing wrong. You’re doing what you feel is right, but then it’s like some of the world turns against you. The victim blaming, the shaming, and just the ugly vitriol that comes out against the victim/survivor with the rape culture in this country. It was honestly heartbreaking to read all that Nor and her family went through post trial, and it’s even more upsetting because it’s a reality for many victims/survivors. Such a helpless feeling that I think this author portrayed well in this book.

**[[As a side note I just want to say right here to any victim/survivor who comes out and tells their story and brings charges against their rapist or abuser, thank you. I believe you. Same goes to those who aren’t ready to. I’m sorry, and I’ll believe you.]]

It was interesting reading all of these things from Em’s POV, because even though she isn’t the victim per say she wants to fight for her sister and protect her. She has a line where after the rapist is given a non-sentence where she says she wishes she knew how to wield a sword, because she’s angry and enraged. She wants to fight for her sister. In this story she learns how to use her “sword” and how not to. That being said, it really did rub me the wrong way at times how Em made things about herself, took actions without deeper thought on the consequences, and thought of Nor and others after. I understand that it’s sort of a realistic way a teenager or anyone may think, but it did frustrate me.

The verse parts of this are the story of Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims. I sort of loved how Em got out her rage at the unsatisfactory sentencing of the rape trial out with her pen, and through the power of another woman’s revenge after her, her family’s, and other women’s rapes. It’s like she felt the empowerment through that story and I thought that it was powerful as a reader. Do I feel she became a bit lost in it, yes, but I also understand that when you feel lost in the real world sometimes getting lost in fiction or other healthy ways is a nice escape and can heal you some.

All in all I thought this was a good read. I think it’s powerful, and could be a good conversation starter.

Profile Image for Maia.
Author 27 books2,292 followers
July 21, 2020
I had the pleasure of illustrating this novel! So I got to read the book early, and my review will be quite biased :D It takes place mostly over one summer during which high schooler Em Morales loses her faith in the justice system after the frat boy who raped her older sister is found guilty by a jury, but not sentenced to any prison time. Em was a writer on her school paper, and used her small social media platform to raise awareness and advocate for her sister's case. Now she is ready to quit journalism altogether in disgust. At loose ends, she reconnects with Jess, a nonbinary acquaintance also home for the summer but trying to avoid their divorcing parents. Jess is in the drama club, practices sword fighting, and loves medieval history. Jess introduces Em to the story of Marguerite de Bressieux, a 15th-century French noblewoman who according to legend took up a sword to avenge victims of sexual violence. Em starts writing poems about Marguerite de Bressieux, which Jess illustrates. I created 18 black and white pieces (Jess's art) for the book and it was one of my favorite illustration projects to date. I, too, was once a nonbinary Renaissance-Fair-obsessed teenager; I looked through a bunch of my own high school sketchbooks, as well as reference books on illuminated manuscripts, for inspiration while working on this. I can't wait for readers to get to see the book when it comes out in early 2021!
Profile Image for Trinh.
352 reviews242 followers
January 30, 2021
I'm so sad that I end up not liking this book. The first half was very good, but the last half went downhill so quickly. Around page 200, the main character suddenly ignores everyone in her life and focuses on the story that she's writing. I have an issue with this because it comes out of nowhere. Also, I'm mad that Em minimizes Jess' problem and refuses to help them (page 210). Regarding the story that Em writes throughout the book, I didn't really care about that since I was invested in Em's life more. I care about Jess and Nor, and I didn't like that a majority of the last half of the book consists of Marguerite's story.

Thank you to Penguin Teen for providing me with an ARC on NetGalley!!
Profile Image for Angela Staudt.
374 reviews111 followers
February 10, 2021
Thank you PenguinTeen for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

We Are The Ashes, We Are The Fire is truly a powerful book that makes you feel every emotion. You feel burning rage, sadness, heart ache, and you want justice for what happened.

The main character Em's sister got raped and the rapist got off with no jail time. The judge didn't want this one thing to ruin the boys life. Em is burning with anger because she can't believe that the boy who raped her sister gets to walk free. She wants justice. 

This book is kind of like a story within a story. It's told in verse and in prose. I really loved the alternating timelines. The only thing that had me confused was the beginning. I didn't really understand what I was reading right off as you just get thrown right into both prose and verse. After I figured it out and got immersed in the book I really loved it. I loved how this was also historical fiction as we learn about Marguerite Bressiuex who lived in the 15th century and got revenge on rapists. 

I lowkey did not like the main character as much as I wanted to. Em made me angry sometimes and I just didn't connect with her as much as I wanted to. Other than that I loved how powerful this book was, it was a tough book to read because time and time again we see rapists get off with a slap on the wrist. We need justice and while this book made me angry, I felt so deeply about what was happening. I think the author did an outstanding job writing about such an important topic and using different writing techniques and putting in historical aspects.
Profile Image for bookswithmaddi.
191 reviews181 followers
August 31, 2021
Do not let my 3 star rating fool you into believing this book does not have my whole heart! I'm not even sure how to begin rating this book. My life changed after I read Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough and since I read it I've been in a desperate search for the same reading experience with another book. So when reaching for WAtAWatF I wanted exactly what BWP gave me. It would be ignorant of me to think that my rating of this was not affected by my expectations for something different from this book. While half of this book takes a historical angle and the same format and BWP (verse), the other half is a YA contemporary which handles the trauma of existing in this world as a woman.
Because these two formats are so different I think it is hard to find the perfect audience for this book. The juxtaposition between the formats and the time periods truly show of McCullough's talent for writing heartfelt and meaningful stories. I thought that at some points the story felt drawn out, I wasn't as invested in the story of Em and Nor and I know some people had the exact opposite reaction. It's difficult to place these two stories in the same binding because in some ways by their existence they rip you out of the story your reading. It's hard to say what should have been done differently, but although the stories had the same themes it felt jolting each time the story would shift from Em to Marguerite.
Overall this book is so important. It singlehandedly captured all of my pent up anger at men and wrote it in the words that I have always struggled to say. I highly highly recommend this book, I think the story of Em makes this book more accessible to a wider audience and although I preferred the verse I can imagine there are so many people who would enjoy the beautiful contemporary inside of this just as much as I enjoyed the history.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,212 followers
February 3, 2021
Half-Guatemalan Em is incensed at how cis boys can so easily get away with behaving terribly toward girls, and she's been writing about it for the school paper as a means of working through her older sister's rape. But when justice isn't served to the rapist, Em is incensed beyond words. Turning to the story of Marguerite de Bressieux, who used to kill rapists, she finds solace and a means of making sense of how these stories go deep into human history.

McCullough's writing is immersive, and Em's utter anger is depicted so well. I found her best friend Jess, who is trans, to be extremely well developed, level headed, and maybe even slightly more compelling than Em herself -- which I think is purposeful, as the story unfolds and Em begins to better understand why it is people who are victims choose to behave in ways she doesn't necessarily agree with or see as "fair" to them.

I found myself far more invested in Em's story than in the story she was writing about Marguerite. I don't enjoy characters writing fiction in a book, and this one didn't capture my attention, either. I read a review that sort of captured it perfectly: this part felt like a rehash of McCullough's Blood Water Paint but not as strong or polished, whereas Em's story felt like something fresh.

A powerful and timely story.
Profile Image for Danielle (Life of a Literary Nerd).
1,179 reviews251 followers
February 22, 2021
1.5 Stars
This book is not bad, I just didn't enjoy it. The story is written in prose (present day as Em and her family is dealing with the aftermath of her older sister sexual assault trial) and verse (a story Em is writing about a medieval noblewoman who avenged rape victims).

I'm going to mark it as a DNF because after about 50 pages I started skipping all the sections in verse and then after about 100 pages, I started skimming the present-day prose sections. I think this is partially my fault for not reading the synopsis close enough, but I loved Blood Water Paint so much that I thought I would love this just as much. Unfortunately, I didn't connect with the characters - which is vital for me in a prose/verse story, and since there was no emotional connection, I just couldn't bring myself to care about what was happening at all. I really loved Em's anger and sense of justice, but it wasn't enough to carry the story for me.
Profile Image for Jenna.
189 reviews395 followers
June 21, 2021
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Happy Publication day to We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire!

Thank you PenguinTeen for an eARC via Netgalley. This is a voluntary and honest review, and all opinions are my own.

Rep: Spanish language, latine MC (Guatemalan dad), non-binary rep

If you’ve read the premise of the book, then you already know it deals with some heavy themes, so here are a few of the trigger/content warnings: rape, victim blaming, gore, misgendering, HP reference. I usually like to recommend booktriggerwarnings.com to make sure that all readers can safely and comfortably engage with their reading material.

Okay, first of all there were fabulous illustrations in this novel done by Maia Kobabe, which were divine and really helped to set a periodic difference from our narrator’s present story to the story our narrator was crafting. I found it rather enjoyable that there was a tale within a tale, and that when Em was writing about Marguerite de Bressieux it was told in verse. I felt like the two storylines were interwoven very well, especially since one was a reflection of the other.

As stated in the synopsis Em Morales is the sister of Nor, who was raped at a frat party. I’m glad that we were able to see the story of Nor’s sister, because it helps convey that when sexual violence occurs it doesn’t only distrupt the life of the victim. No, that type of violation has consequences that reverberate and manifest differently in the lives of many who may or may not be aware of the victim’s assault. I do not say this in any way, shape, or form to diminish the severity of Nor’s trauma and how her body was taken from her, when she was raped. Instead, I just want to emphasis that sexual violence is messy and the after-effects do not come with a rule book for any of the parties involved. The pain and the rage and how it manifests can vary greatly and it’s important that we acknowledge it. It’s important to acknowledge how people can be driven to hurt the ones they love, when they are trying to help. When they want to give the victim, the love, time, and understanding they need, while also working through their very different, but valid grief.

Rape happens, and has happened, and it’s sick that we even still have to have this conversation, but it’s real. It hasn’t gone away, it may never go away, but we can continue to learn and educate and hopefully dismantle this system that enables rapists, perpetrators, defilers to reap a consequence befitting their crime. I wish I could say that I wish for justice, but in my heart, there is no true justice when a victim has to deal with the trauma for the rest of their lives.

The cast of characters in this story, where relatable because they were imperfect, they were human. Of course, most of us know how we should act, and what we should and shouldn’t do if someone in our lives is assaulted. However, humans are well, human, and even the most well intentioned person is going to make mistakes. Should we give more space or less, should we initiate that conversation or let the person come to us, should we talk to those around us, or do we pour ourselves into a creative outlet? There is no right answer. There is no universal truth, for we are all distinctly unique, irrevocably human - and thus, we will hurt, and love and make mistakes.

Sometimes, I find myself disliking Em, but I feel like that was kind of the point. She was not okay and she lashed out in her grief, while she was gripping to deal with the whirlwind of the While, the story is centered around the events that took place after Nor’s assault, she isn’t in the household, so we really spend more time with Em, Mom, Dad, and Jess. I loved Jess, and the integration of their non-binary idenity, how the author highlighted issues Jess faced in the world and pointed them out. Therefore, if you, as the reader, are unaware or don’t notice something, the author calls it to attention. It’s called to attention in a manner that, if you are someone who has the privilege of society accepting you as you are without question, or condition, will probably make you take a moment, pause, and think.

I will say that about halfway through the novel I became more invested in Marguerite de Bressieux’s story than Em’s direct story. Yes, I am aware that Marguerite de Bressieux’s story was heavily impacted by Nor/Em/Jess’s lives, but the pacing was different and captured me differently. If you like open endings this book has one, although there are a few conversations I wish we could have been privy to as the reader.
Profile Image for USOM.
2,429 reviews199 followers
February 17, 2021
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the Bookish First. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

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.

full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...
Profile Image for Mallory.
1,134 reviews85 followers
February 10, 2021
I want to start with saying that a lot of the material in this book is potentially triggering subject matter particularly of rape and the aftermath. That being said I loved this book and felt it did an excellent job of highlighting those topics, particularly the aftermath on those around the survivor. The narrator of this story is Em and it centers on the aftermath of her older sister being raped while at college. I loved that perspective because trauma impacts not only the survivor but their family as well. Em has always loved journalism and has focused her work during the aftermath and trial on highlighting stories of other survivors and helping bring to light how common a story it truly is. Em loses faith in journalism and the criminal justice system and spends her summer working on telling the story through poetry of a possibly real possibly mythic woman who picked up a sword and donned armor to avenge herself after being sexually assaulted. Beautifully written and such a compelling story.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
981 reviews502 followers
November 3, 2021
Phenomenal premise, sadly the execution was lacking.

Ended up quite a typical YA..
Profile Image for Kristi.
829 reviews199 followers
January 29, 2021
Brash. Brazen. Bossy. Hussy.

I just finished We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough and it is fiercely beautiful and heartbreaking. Em is the biggest champion and loudest voice when it comes to defending her sister, Nor, a victim of rape by the campus big shot. Just when it seems as if they’ve made progress with a guilty verdict, the judge hands down a hand slap of a sentence to the monster that assaulted Nor. Another kick in the face, not only to Nor but to all the women who’ve been victims and hoped to see justice done in the never-ending violence and forbearance of the rape culture.

Full of disappointment and disgust, Em quits writing for the school newspaper and advocating for other victims and then she reconnects with Jess. Jess introduces Em to the legend of Marguerite de Bressieux, a 15th century French woman who is known for avenging rape victims. Em begins writing poetry about Marguerite to which Jess illustrates and so begins a sort of dual narrative with parts written in free verse/prose.

I think this is a book for the times and not meant to be a feel-good book but to be more of an eye-opener to what has become accepted. It’s a book about family and friends, about supporting each other, about every negative feeling we have that we don’t know what to do with and finding a way to cope with these feelings through positive interactions and fighting the system that would hold you down.

I’ll probably go back and reread this again at some point because this is the type of book that I know I’ll find new meanings in, every time I read it.

Thank you Penguin Teen for the DRC in exchange for my review.
Profile Image for Lisa | Lady_Logomancer.
314 reviews21 followers
January 30, 2021
This book is a discomfiting book within a book about family, feminism, guilt and revenge. It’s relatable to anyone who has ever had their power taken away by someone who felt entitled to do so, and the aftermath of picking up the pieces along with the anger and feelings of wanting to get even.

It’s a book with inside a book, as it’s partially about the MC and her struggle to accept that her sisters rapist was convicted but does no jail time and it’s a long form poem she writes about a 15th century French noblewoman who takes up arms to avenge rape and murder. It’s also a commentary about social media and how it can help connect people for a cause, just not necessarily a positive cause.

This book is a lot of sharp angles, a lot of prickly and intense feelings wrapped into a narrative that even in the most benign examples of the influence of the male gaze and entitlement fill you with unease. It was creative and well written. I am jealous of those who received a print copy of the ARC because I know the prose and the artwork within will be gorgeous in the finished book.

I would say that if you enjoyed this authors previous work or if you want to read a story about the 21st century version of the struggle to keep violent hands and misogynistic views off of our women and girls, you will like this book.

Thank you to Simon Teen for an advance copy of this book, I am giving this review voluntarily.
Profile Image for Maggie Carr.
976 reviews17 followers
April 1, 2021
Expand Your Horizons: A Book About A Tragedy
(Trigger Warnings: Rape, rape culture through the centuries)
A new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister’s rapist escapes with no prison time.

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 short-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.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a searing and nuanced portrait of a young woman torn between a persistent desire for revenge and a burning need for hope.
Profile Image for Kassie.
400 reviews472 followers
April 29, 2021
This was unfortunately not my favorite, but it’s a solid 3 stars. We follow M who’s older sister was sexually assaulted before the start of the novel. After a very Brock Turner -esque sequence of events, M is still struggling with feeling she could do more and wants see her sister’s rapist see real punishment.

While the themes of the story were something i wanted to see and want more books about, i think this one didn’t hit the right tone for my own enjoyment. M feels whiny and is very selfish throughout the book. Not to say some of what M is going through isn’t realistic, but more that i would’ve liked to see her recognizing more of her mistakes by the end of the novel with a resolution.

There’s also a historical fiction story within the story that M is writing and i didn’t realize that going in. It’s not my favorite writing style.
Profile Image for Rachel Solomon.
Author 14 books5,679 followers
March 17, 2020
I won't say too much before there's an official summary...but WOW. What an incredible and inventive follow-up to Blood Water Paint.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
2,084 reviews62 followers
May 12, 2021
Actual rating: 3.5 stars
Em’s sister was raped outside a frat party. When a jury finds the rapist guilty, Em is relieved: she is the one that advocated for her sister to go to the hospital, to press charges, to find the strength to testify. And, throughout the trial, Em wrote and published profiles of other rape survivors, helping their voices be heard. But, the judge opts for a sentence of no prison time. Em and her family are thrown into a tailspin and Em struggles to find a way to move forward. Do words matter? Why should Em follow her journalistic passion when it didn’t result in what she had hoped?

What happens after the verdict? There are many stories about rape and rape survivors. But this was the first I read that seemed to center on (1) after the verdict, and (2) a family member of the rape survivor. Having had a passion for journalism when I was in high school, it was interesting to read how Em used her words throughout her sister’s rapist’s trial and how, after the verdict, she felt abandoned by the field she loved. I enjoyed Em’s approach to using a historical figure to try to come to terms with a violent event. I would have read an entire novel just about Marguerite de Bressieux. I was fascinated with the creation of her story and really wish Joy McCullough’s author’s note had said a bit more about the fact vs. fiction of that part of the tale.

However, I felt like the historical parts of the novel led me away from Em’s story; I felt like I was reading two novels pushed together into one. On their own, each story had strength and interest. Together, I found my emotions and attention jumping too much to be 100% invested in either tale. But this feeling of being torn between two narratives did not detract from my overall reaction nor the emotional punch.
Profile Image for Sharon Roat.
Author 4 books329 followers
January 24, 2021
Blown. Away.

Just finished reading an advance copy of this amazing novel in prose and verse, contemporary and historical woven together so brilliantly. The pen is indeed as mighty as the sword, and Joy McCullough wields it fearlessly.
Profile Image for Kelly Hager.
3,102 reviews130 followers
February 12, 2021
I love this book. I was pretty sure I would when I read the synopsis, but I had no idea just how much I needed to read it.

I'm going to be honest now, I've been angry for a long time. I could say since 2016, but probably before that. Everything about this world feels insultingly wrong sometimes and I hate it. And if this is how you also feel, this is the book for you.

I don't want to spoil anything, but this book is perfection. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Sam (she_who_reads_).
641 reviews14 followers
May 21, 2021
Maybe closer to 3.5? I just was really not a fan of the book within the book unfortunately
Profile Image for Sydney.
272 reviews20 followers
May 16, 2021
Unfortunately I had to DNF this at around 30%. There's no other way to say this, but the writing was bad. It was extremely juvenile, not like it was written for a young audience, but like it was written by an inexperienced teenager. The poetry sections were especially bad, and I had no feelings for the characters. I loved the premise and feel that this would be an important story to tell, but it certainly wasn't told well here.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
153 reviews195 followers
February 6, 2021
This is a story about Em, who is filled with rage after her older sister's rapist walks with no prison time. And after the public trial, her sister is facing backlash and harrassment at her university and on social media. Em, searching for ways to express her anger and tell the story she feels is being silenced, becomes inspired by and begins writing a story about Marguerite de Bressieux, a historical and somewhat legendary figure of a noble woman in France who, along with the other women in her household, was raped during an attack on her castle. These women were said to have formed a band of knights and taken their revenge on their attackers on the battlefield.
I picked this up because I loved Blood Water Paint, and was excited to read this author's take on another historical figure dealing with these topics. However, I think Blood Water Paint had something special that this book did not have for me. I did enjoy reading it, and I thought it explored very well the anger that Em, and so many others, feel toward a world and system that refuses to hold privileged men accountable for their actions yet tears women apart at every turn. Unfortunately, that anger wasn't enough for me and didn't paint a full picture of such a complex topic. I did think the social commentary was well done, and the story portrayed the ways in which victims are punished for speaking up and face backlash for their every move.
But I think the main turn off for me was how self-absorbed Em is as a main character. It was hard to shake the feeling that she was taking her sister's trauma, and Marguerite's trauma, and making it about herself, making things even harder for her sister in the process. I spent a good amount of time under the impression that that would be explored and become a point of growth for Em, and while it is, lightly, it wasn't enough to make me feel comfortable with it or invested in her telling of Marguerite's story, or her response to her sister's trauma. It was perfectly realistic and understandable, but it didn't make for a good story for me.
Overall, the writing was still beautiful, and if you're looking for a book filled with righteous anger and female rage, this would be an excellent choice. Joy McCullough is a truly talented writer and her prose conveys emotions strongly. So even though I didn't vibe with the plot or main character of this book, I would still recommend it.

*Thank you to Penguin Teen for an ARC on Netgalley!
Profile Image for Tasha.
4,117 reviews104 followers
March 23, 2021
Em’s older sister was raped by another student at her college following a frat party. After reliving the trauma through the trial of her rapist, Em is incandescent with vindication when the jury finds the rapist guilty on all counts. Em has been an advocate for her sister through the process, becoming a social media figure in the #MeToo movement. Then the judge in the case rules that the rapist will serve no prison time. Once again Em’s entire family is thrown into chaos. Her sister must figure out how to continue going to school and where she can safely live. Her parents are fractured in their responses, smothering and avoiding. Em too must find a new way forward without the trial as her focus. Meanwhile, a clip of her after the trial saying she wants to learn “how to use a sword” has gone viral. As Em makes new friends over the summer, she learns to wield that sword both literally and figuratively as she discovers the life of a fifteenth-century French noblewoman who is a legendary figure who took justice into her own hands and at the point of her own sword.

McCullough’s writing here is just as fine as that of her debut novel Blood Water Paint. She writes such strong young women who deal with rape and derision and yet find a way to fight back in their own personal ways. For Em, her writing is a tool that allows her to cope. She gets caught up in the legend of Marguerite de Bressieux, writing at length, sharing it usually with a new friend who understands her need to stand up and be heard. Em’s writing is included in the book in verse, pairing beautifully with the prose and offering illuminated images alongside some of the poems.

Intelligent and raging, this book deeply looks at the impact of a rape on the survivor and her family. It’s interesting to have Em as the main character, a sister who feels powerless much of the time and must reclaim along with her sister what has been lost to the legal process and its clear biases. It is a look also at the power of art to express fury as well as hope.

Stunning, raw and gorgeous. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Profile Image for Daijah.
474 reviews151 followers
July 25, 2021
Actual rating: 3/5 stars

Read for Tarot Readathon 2021: 3 of Swords

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a story about the patriarchy and rape culture that includes a story within a story. The main storyline is written in first person, which follows Em Morales after her older sister's rape trial. The rapist was found guilty but was sentenced to no prison time, which enraged Em even more. Em's perspective shows how rape not only affects the survivors but also the people around those survivors. It also shows how that speaking out against rapists and pursuing legal action permanently affects the survivors and their families.

To escape from her reality and release her emotions about the situation, Em begins writing a medieval story about a feminist figure in history. Parts of the story she is writing are included in the book and are written in verse.

I loved the messages in here so much espeically and as a survivor, I believe the representation was very well done. I really connected to Em in the sense that when I'm extremely passionate about an issue, I will go to the ends of the earth to do what I can to make a difference. I also appreciated seeing how supportive Em's family was, not only to her sister but to her and her friend. Em gains a non-binary friend through this story whose parents are going through a divorce, so those issues are also talked about. I am not non-binary or have parents who have been divorced so I can't speak on that representation so I would definitely check out own voices reviewers.

Another bit of representation is that Em's father is Guatemalan and that is sprinkled in but again I can't speak on that representation and I know that the author is not at all Guatemalan so I don't know if how the culture in this book was portrayed, is accurate.

Despite really enjoying the messages and themes throughout this book, I really started to disconnect from is when more of the story Em was writing got included. Towards the middle of the book, half of the story began to be just that. I honestly didn't really care about that portion of the story and honestly was confused on what was going on most of the time.

I also do think this is still a bit of a white-washed version of feminism, and there is a lot more to rape culture in the patriarchy when people are a part of a minority, and while Em and her sister are having Guatemalan, that was not really discussed in regards to rape culture, and how they are more susceptible.

I still did enjoy this story and would definitely recommend it for younger readers, maybe around the ages of 15-16, who are just starting to witness these issues. I think it goes into a lot of nuances not discussed much and could be really helpful for those trying to understand the complexities of rape culture.

Thank you to Dutton Books, Joy McCullough, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kera’s Always Reading.
1,283 reviews41 followers
January 4, 2021
3.75 stars for this book.

This was my first read of Joy McCullough’s work and I am in love with the writing, both style and prose. We have two parallel stories being told in We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire, which I found added such a great aspect to the underlying message of the book.

Em Morales is dealing with the aftermath of her sister’s rape trial and the fact that even though her rapist is found guilty, he gets no jail time and virtually no repercussions for his heinous actions. Now, not only is her sister a mess, but the stress is causing a rift between her parents. And we then have the alternate storyline of Marguerite de Bressieux told in free verse (which I adore), a French noblewoman who brutally fought and killed rapists in the fifteenth century.

Em was this ball of enraged fury and sadness in the aftermath of her sister’s trial. After being such a big advocate for her sister’s defense and public outcry for her rights, a soundbite is captured from Em which goes viral and it does not exactly help matters. But her discovery of Marguerite created a pathway for her to channel her anger into.

This was a very hard-hitting book. My heart broke for Elinor. This subject matter is always a little hard to swallow. I loved these characters, especially Em and Elinor’s parents and Em’s friend Jess. I loved the beauty in the human connections and the love you can feel in this family.
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