I am unfortunately incredibly behind on this review, as well as reading this book. Thank you Netgalley and Sourcebook for a copy in exchange for an honest review. I know I am so late on this, so consider this extra chatter in anticipation for the paperback release, on September 3, 2019!
After the Fire
by Will Hill
Published Date: October 2018
Read Date: June 2019
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Page Count: 464 Pages
Rating: 4/5 Moose
What is it like to live in a cult? What is it like to not be allowed to go outside the gates of your community? What is it like to know more types of guns than letters of the alphabet? Or to know you are the people standing between the end of time and sinners? To have to follow Father John’s rules, to understand the consequences?
And what comes when a fire destroys everything you know?
Rants, Raves, and Reviews
Hoooooo boy, I forgot how much anxiety cults give me. I honestly cannot explain why either? Like I can understand my avoidance with school shootings, books that revolve around water, and my avoidance of true crime documentaries. (It may fall into the latter part.) But cults have always terrified me — to the point that I still vividly remember the episode of Boy Meets World where Shawn briefly joins a cult. There is something about the manipulation and profound sadness I have towards people who have a hole in their life that can be filled by a cult. That’s not to say I feel above them at ALL, frankly I fear the opposite.
This is all lead up to explain that this book was both hard to read but incredibly enjoyable.
The book starts with the fire that causes the title of the book. IT opens with our main character, unnamed, trying to save the lives of children. It opens with the same seventeen year old girl getting nearly killed for being in the cult, who then gets snapped at for not speaking. An authority figure is literally trying to guilt her into talking despite this fire, the trauma of seeing so much death, and receiving second degree burns, but hey, let’s make her feel awful for not speaking.
The book is framed in therapy sessions and the stories our main character Moonbeam tells her therapist. Honestly as someone who is fairly on the fence of books that jump around in time, I think this is the best framing device for this? Moonbeam spends the book adjusting to life outside the cult and learning to trust her therapist. Through this, the story unfolds in waves as the trust grows. We know nothing about her actual family (not her cult family, which did take me a little while to figure out the difference between the two) at first — are her parents alive?
Obviously Moonbeam is dealing with trauma. I think the book handles her trauma well until towards the end, where it seems to kind of disappear? But we do know most of the book that Moonbeam has a secret, that definitely relates to the fire somehow. Now, no matter what that secret is, I think anyone
sane would agree that Moonbeam is NOT. AT. FAULT. NO MATTER. WHAT. Especially as we learn that she’s promised to Father John as a child, she’s starved, she’s not allowed to deal with her mom leaving… I honestly cannot think of something she could do that wouldn’t be forgiven. And yet the guilt is tormenting her.
I did have a few issues with the book. I think the therapy and adjustment of Moonbeam as she fights against the cult upbringings and acknowledging that there is something wrong feels flat to me in parts. At times it feels like she’s too well adjusted for a kid that was raised in a cult? I think her thought process was of someone who wasn’t part of a cult far too frequently. Also without discussion of education at all — can she do maths? write? spell? There’s really only discussion of work and suffering and sermons. (I did spend a good portion of this book wondering her education status and if she could get a job helping kids adjust after cults or working with the FBI or something?) I also found the ending a bit rushed. This book seemed to focus on getting these kids to talk about what happened and a little about adjusting after — but not enough for me? At the same time, I really didn’t need more of the book. I mean it is called After the Fire, so I guess I expected more of her adjustment, and not just the first six weeks?
I do recommend the book in the end. I think the book discusses how a religious group can turn into a cult well, and while not focusing a ton on the differences, you can feel it. There is an innocent crush, but no romance to cloud the book. Not all the children that are saved handled it well, and I almost wished all of that was explored more? Either way, I am glad I have found a YA book by this publisher that I enjoy quite a bit.
Major warnings for torture, gun usage, death, cults
But thankfully, no rape.