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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 famil 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.


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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 famil 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.

30 review for We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kai

    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. 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    jessica

    ‘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 ‘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

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melanie (mells_view)

    “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 l “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. AVAILABLE NOW! *ARC

  4. 4 out of 5

    Maia

    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 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!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Angela Staudt

    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 want 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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    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 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    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 bee 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mallory

    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 fa 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Trinh

    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 l 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!!

  10. 5 out of 5

    USOM

    (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 (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...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lisa | Lady_Logomancer

    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 centu 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Danielle (Life of a Literary Nerd)

    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 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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Solomon

    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. 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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    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 recommen 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Roat

    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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Hager

    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. 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gretal

    I don't really know how to review this I don't really know how to review this

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    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 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!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kera (featherboundbooks)

    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 on 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sakina (aforestofbooks)

    I cannot express my thoughts coherently. After reading Blood Water Paint, I knew whatever Joy McCullough wrote next would be a masterpiece, and this did not disappoint. I was expecting a book completely in verse, but I actually really loved how we got chapters of prose in between Marguerite's story. It fit so well with the message of this book, and I have to say, this book is angry. You can feel it in every word, every sentence. I need to go back and honestly highlight the sentences that stuck ou I cannot express my thoughts coherently. After reading Blood Water Paint, I knew whatever Joy McCullough wrote next would be a masterpiece, and this did not disappoint. I was expecting a book completely in verse, but I actually really loved how we got chapters of prose in between Marguerite's story. It fit so well with the message of this book, and I have to say, this book is angry. You can feel it in every word, every sentence. I need to go back and honestly highlight the sentences that stuck out to me on the page. You can feel the pain, the exhaustion, the cry for justice and revenge. Everything that Marianne thinks, everything she and her family and friends go through, is so relatable. It had me thinking back on my life, it had me thinking forward. And with everything going on in Pakistan right now too, it felt like the perfect timing to pick this book up.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    An amazing unforgettable tale of the ripple effect of one person's actions across many people's lives. One of the main characters, Em, brought me into her world from the beginning and I could feel myself relating to some of her thoughts and how some things should happen. There is also a tale written by Em within the main story and I felt it was a great way of showing how the character was reflecting on what happened in her life through use of fiction and what she thinks or feels about what shoul An amazing unforgettable tale of the ripple effect of one person's actions across many people's lives. One of the main characters, Em, brought me into her world from the beginning and I could feel myself relating to some of her thoughts and how some things should happen. There is also a tale written by Em within the main story and I felt it was a great way of showing how the character was reflecting on what happened in her life through use of fiction and what she thinks or feels about what should happen with those events and the people involved. There are some heavy themes of sexual assault, sexuality, family structure, actions and their consequences or lack thereof explored in this book and there are definitely some intense moments where the book might have to be closed and a breath taken but it is worth opening that book back up and seeing what happens. This is a great book to use as a way of getting some dialogues going with people and shedding light on some of the dark areas of humanity. I voluntarily reviewed an advanced readers copy of this book thanks to BookishFirst and the publishers.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jenn of The Bookish Society

    I'm torn about how to review this important story. I liked both halves and wished maybe that they had been separate books, if that makes any sense? The title drew me in, and the premise of a historical heroine on the same quest as a modern-day teenager. Em's older sister, Nor, was raped at a college party before the book begins. The judge lets the rapist off with time served - even though he was convicted. Em's social media rant goes viral, and the whole family struggles. The secondary story is th I'm torn about how to review this important story. I liked both halves and wished maybe that they had been separate books, if that makes any sense? The title drew me in, and the premise of a historical heroine on the same quest as a modern-day teenager. Em's older sister, Nor, was raped at a college party before the book begins. The judge lets the rapist off with time served - even though he was convicted. Em's social media rant goes viral, and the whole family struggles. The secondary story is the one Em writes about Marguerite de Bressieux, a fifteenth-century woman she hears .about but can find very little information about. Em retells Marguerite's story through free verse poetry. You won't "like" this book; I don't think you are meant to at all. It will make you angry and annoyed that women still need to defend themselves against men in this way. I'm torn as to what age this book is suitable for. I "d definitely hand it over to an older teen, and say 12+ depending on the reader

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    This story benefits from being told in prose as well as the method of story telling it uses. Spoiler-free Review: https://amberinoface.wordpress.com/20... I received an ecopy of this book via Netgalley; however, my opinions are my own. This story benefits from being told in prose as well as the method of story telling it uses. Spoiler-free Review: https://amberinoface.wordpress.com/20... I received an ecopy of this book via Netgalley; however, my opinions are my own.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Lawson

    Heartbreaking. Heartmaking. Full of sisterly love and systemic evil and personal guilt and flames of vengeance and SWORDS. All kinds of swords that protect, that seek justice, and that heal. Read this book for Nor. For Marianne. For Jess. For Marguerite. For Zahra. For Helene. Read it for yourself. Just READ THIS BOOK.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Charisma D

    As much as I really wanted to love this one (and believe me, I really did), their was just something missing from the story for me. (So technically this is a 3.75) First things first, this book is half written in regular chapters and half written in prose. It’s essentially a story within a story. Both the story of the MC, Em Morales and her story of poems written in prose of Marguerite de Bressieux is an important one. We follow Em through her trials and tribulations of her current life throughou As much as I really wanted to love this one (and believe me, I really did), their was just something missing from the story for me. (So technically this is a 3.75) First things first, this book is half written in regular chapters and half written in prose. It’s essentially a story within a story. Both the story of the MC, Em Morales and her story of poems written in prose of Marguerite de Bressieux is an important one. We follow Em through her trials and tribulations of her current life throughout summer. She is upset about her sisters trial outcome, how the justice system and the judge failed her and her family, about how every time she writes something in defense of her sister and her family and other rape victims out there she is then met with huge consequences that don’t help anyone especially herself and all the while, trying to find out how to get vengeance for the wrong doing that has been done to her family. The only way she finds a way out of the madness of her life is writing a story of poems and how she can take vengeance and revenge through her story and her fictional characters. As we follow her through this rabbit hole of her poems, we see how she loses herself in her writing. She disregards her family, her newest friend Jess whom we also see how their nonbinary status plays a role in this book, and essentially makes everything about herself. She is nonetheless, self destructive. It takes a self inflicted (not purposely drawn towards a suicide incident) incident that happens to Em, for her to realize how much damage she has caused to the people around her. She does end up finishing her story at Marguerite, but at what cost? My reasoning for giving this book 3 stars was because of how self absorbed Em was in her self. She made an incident that did not happen directly to her, about her in the end. She did not understand how her actions were affecting herself, and her loved ones as well. It also would have been nice to have more insight into the story of what was going on with her and her sister and everyone else as opposed to mainly focusing on her poetry novel. It was really insightful to see how a rape trial and the outcome of it, affects not only the victim, but there family members around them and how they cope with it day to day. Thank you to the publishers for a gifted copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. **TW: Rape, Injustice, self infliction, nonbinary issues**

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kaley

    Thank you so much to PenguinTeen and NetGalley for an ARC! All opinions are my own Quick Stats Overall: 3.5 stars Characters: 3.5/5 Plot: 3/5 Writing: 5/5 ~ I kept going back and forth on this one. Joy McCullough is a beautiful writer. The subject matter was so important. The addition of historical fiction and how Marguerite’s story is woven in was phenomenal. But I could not get myself to like Em. I loved pretty much every other character—Sometimes Jess felt a bit immature to me. I felt like they were Thank you so much to PenguinTeen and NetGalley for an ARC! All opinions are my own Quick Stats Overall: 3.5 stars Characters: 3.5/5 Plot: 3/5 Writing: 5/5 ~ I kept going back and forth on this one. Joy McCullough is a beautiful writer. The subject matter was so important. The addition of historical fiction and how Marguerite’s story is woven in was phenomenal. But I could not get myself to like Em. I loved pretty much every other character—Sometimes Jess felt a bit immature to me. I felt like they were melodramatic at times. But Marianne drove me crazy. She was so selfish and self-righteous. Her character had a lot of potential for growth, but I feel as if she just regressed. Every thing that happened to her resulted in her lashing out overdramatically and immaturely. I understand she was struggling with trauma, but it was hard to read without getting annoyed. Also, I think she snapped out of it way too easily and suddenly. Within like one chapter towards the end she did a 180, and honestly? I feel like in reality, she probably would have needed a lot of therapy to get to that point at all, let alone in a 24 hour span. The plot started out really strong. I was swept away and read the first 60% in one sitting. Seeing the way everyone was handling what happened to Nor differently, getting to know Jess, and getting led into Marguerite’s story was really well done and absorbing. I loved how Jess took Em to medieval sword fighting lessons. And I honestly couldn’t get enough of the writing itself. Plus, as someone who lives in Western Washington, all of the references to Seattle were fun. I now really want to visit that Illuminated Texts exhibit after COVID is over. However, at about that 60% mark, Em started shutting everyone out and only writing Marguerite’s story. Don’t get me wrong, Marguerite’s story was one of my favorite parts of the novel, but it very suddenly took over and the actual plot of the book just completely dropped off the radar for several chapters. It was a very sudden change from mostly Em to mostly Marguerite and kind of made it hard to stay interested in the book for a while. It did end strongly, if a little unrealistically. I would still recommend giving this book a shot if it sounds up your alley, it just wasn’t for me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Hardisty-Cranstone

    Thank you @penguinteen for the e-arc!! This book released THIS WEEK so there's no need to wait for your copy! I wish that swords were something granted to us at a certain milestone, like tampons and puberty, and we were taught to use them, responsibly and with honor, that chivalry was an actual thing, not in the damsels in distress sense, but in the sense that we look out for one another and sometimes you might need my sword and sometimes I might need your sword, but we’re never standing alone Thank you @penguinteen for the e-arc!! This book released THIS WEEK so there's no need to wait for your copy! I wish that swords were something granted to us at a certain milestone, like tampons and puberty, and we were taught to use them, responsibly and with honor, that chivalry was an actual thing, not in the damsels in distress sense, but in the sense that we look out for one another and sometimes you might need my sword and sometimes I might need your sword, but we’re never standing alone in the middle of a battlefield, defenseless. Wow. WOW. This book BLEW ME AWAY. I found myself highlighting and rereading sections more than I have in years. I know for a fact this one will be a loved reread for many years to come and will stick with me even as I read other books on my shelves. I basically finished it in two sittings because it would not let me go. TW: Heavy discussions of rape (none graphically depicted), victim blaming, toxic masculinity, an instance of misgendering, brief HP references Em, a Guatemalan girl living in Seattle, tries to process her fury and sadness after her older sister's rapist walks free. Likes: 🔥 The parallel story told in verse. I did not expect to love it as much as I did, but it held me in the story and really hit home on so many points 🔥 Em is loud and angry and makes some huge mistakes. I loved her for it. 🔥 The raw, bleeding, beauty of this story. McCullough captures the helplessness of being a woman in a society designed for men. It was unflinching as it faced the ugly truth of toxic masculinity and its impact on women through generations. 🔥 Jess, Em's best friend, was very casually non-binary and I LOVED IT. 🔥 How each person dealt with their demons in messy ways that hurt those around them, but they always had each other. 🔥 Jess calling Em on her crap. 🔥 The resolution was not what I expected. It was so much better and definitely left me thinking. Dislikes: 🔥 The relative lack of acknowledgement that not all men are evil. However there were excellent male characters, so this is perhaps too critical. I need a copy of this like YESTERDAY. I am so glad it came into my life and I can't wait to see what the author comes up with next!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mariam

    I was honored by Penguin Teen to read this story before it was released and may I say, it is one of those stories that many may relate to. A story about a family who goes through the pain of hearing their daughter's rapist is excused by the justice system once again because as always society sides with the man's side. The story follows the journey through the eyes of Em Morales, the sister of the survivor who's keen on telling her sister's story as well as stories of many other women. Even after I was honored by Penguin Teen to read this story before it was released and may I say, it is one of those stories that many may relate to. A story about a family who goes through the pain of hearing their daughter's rapist is excused by the justice system once again because as always society sides with the man's side. The story follows the journey through the eyes of Em Morales, the sister of the survivor who's keen on telling her sister's story as well as stories of many other women. Even after being silenced by her school's paper and her dream opportunity is taken away, Em decided to quit the newspaper and decide to follow her own journey of telling the story. Em becomes friends with a non-binary theater and medieval history lover Jess who introduces her to Marguerite de Dressiux, a noblewoman from the 15th century who's known for avenging rape victims. Em begins to write a story in a form of poetry of a retelling of Marguerite's life and how she sees it while Jess illustrates. I saw it as manuscripts with poetic telling. The experience of reading not one but two stories was a unique experience within a book. Seeing how Em's emotions and motives poured into her story, showing her dedication to advocating for women was admiring. This isn't a book where one should simply read it and set it aside. But read it and learn from it. One where the reader should see the parallels between the stories of rape victims in the story and our reality. And should think to themselves, how do we become our own version of Marguerite. The only thing I think would've made this book better was more insight into Em's story and the story of her family. Especially her sister, Nor. I felt at some points it focused more on Marguerite's story than it did on Em's. Also the representation of a non-binary friend, a latino family, and a Muslim hijabi lawyer?! Wow, as a Muslim, I thank the author for including a hijabi Muslim representation because it's rarely seen. Thank you once again Penguin Teen for allowing me an ARC read!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    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 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.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Okay, ya'll. This book was SO GOOD. So many feels. I was angry, sad, happy, frustrated... highly recommend. This book is told in half prose, half poetry. I don't usually read poetry, so I was skeptical at first. But the poetry was lovely, and the prose was beautifully written as well. We have two stories here. In the prose bits, we are with Em, a teenage girl who's sister, Nor, was brutally raped by a college classmate. The story picks up at the end of the trial Em pushed Nor into. Nor's rapist i Okay, ya'll. This book was SO GOOD. So many feels. I was angry, sad, happy, frustrated... highly recommend. This book is told in half prose, half poetry. I don't usually read poetry, so I was skeptical at first. But the poetry was lovely, and the prose was beautifully written as well. We have two stories here. In the prose bits, we are with Em, a teenage girl who's sister, Nor, was brutally raped by a college classmate. The story picks up at the end of the trial Em pushed Nor into. Nor's rapist is found guilty, but, shockingly, sentenced to no jail time. Em is devastated, angry, and jaded about the world. Her relationship with her sister has fallen apart because of Em's brash actions after the trial. So she turns to the medium which she once used to express her emotions: poetry. Through poetry Em tells the story of Marguerite de Bressieux, a legendary French noblewomen who takes up arms to avenge her rape and the rape of the women of her household. The poetry and Marguerite's story are lovely, tragic, and empowering. Like I said- I don't usually read poetry but wow, I loved the poetry parts of this book and looked forward to turning a page and finding poetry. Em's story was heartbreaking, as well. I am (full disclosure) an adult reading YA, which sometimes means that the teen emotions feel unrealistic to me, distanced from my youth as I am :). But Em's selfishness, which is the best word I can think of to describe her actions, felt so realistic and felt like exactly what I would have done in her situation. It was frustrating, yes, but so understandable. In all, I highly recommend this book to anyone. Give it a shot. It is beautifully written and will sit with you long after you finish the last page.

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