What is this about?: Abby has returned home to work on a case involving Optimal Plastics, and the effect on the environment in the town and if they’re the reason people, especially children, are getting ill, or losing their crops. Except it becomes something else altogether.
What else is this about?: Bullying, high school and the relationships that define us. Or wish didn’t define us.
Should you ever go back?
It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.
But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.
Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.
With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?
You know her name, but I did not realise that Krysten Ritter was a budding author until I came across Bonfire some months ago. Having finally got a chance to read it, I was pretty impressed because this is is a sprawling plot, that delves into the background of Abby and her experiences in high school, with her friend, and those that bullied her, and ties it pretty well to her future. Or present case as it may be.
Is a lawyer now, who has removed all trace of her small-town roots her — her accent and her styling, and her everything. Yet, in her head and her heart, she hasn’t yet been able to let go of her hometown, which is why she a farmer there sends a complaint to her environmental agency about Optimal Plastics, the biggest company in town, she grabs onto the chance to go home.
From there, we learn about her past, the horrific bullying she experienced contrasted with the people she meets now, adults who on the surface at least are nothing like the kids she left behind. That leaves Abby wondering if she imagined certain events from her childhood, as you would, and it forces her to face what happened then — even as she holds on to her hurt from her experiences back then.
Abby is adrift, working so hard to leave her small-town roots behind she’s forgotten to set down roots elsewhere. A best friend, is more of a best frenemy, it seems and while the case begins with her and her team exploring Barron and the case, it soon narrows to Abby and her experiences and ties to the town. I’d almost forgotten she’d had a team there.
This isn’t actually a coming of age story, but the events in her past that shaped her and her present are explored with in such a way that I found myself utterly enthralled and comparing it to a recent book that tried to do the same — The Chalk Man, which to my mind succeeded in doing nothing more than boring me immensely with it’s back and forth to the characters’ pasts.
Abby’s father and her family’s past are another aspect explored in this book, and her relationship with her father in the present as well. He is dying, and as much as she hated him, she realises that when he is dying his loss will affect her — she will feel his loss. There’s something about seeing the demon in your memories, reduced to being merely human, that lets her (anyone) bend.
I found the adults to be insidious in the present, snakes in the grass so to speak as Abby continues her case. They are the kind of people you would still avoid, even as an adult, but Abby doesn’t have that choice in this case. It’s almost as if she wants to be accepted by them in some way too – and as odd as that is, I kind of understood it as well. There are some things time can’t change.
There’a a predictability to the story that you can see coming the minute the two love interests are established. The worst of it is, I don’t know why they had to be love interests, and not remain friends, while I admit made me roll my eyes as the conclusion of the book came along. I felt like Abby was hostage to a trope of the hero coming in to rescue her, when a more powerful story could have been Abby rescuing herself.
I argued with myself if I was being too harsh on this given it’s a debut novel, but in a market of unreliable narrators and superb writing that grips you and doesn’t let go, this sort of predictability only gets this a 3.5. I will say that the actual meat of the story, characterisation and plot is what kept me engrossed, mercifully.
Solid start, but I expected more.