Bonfire: Going home is never easy

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter book review

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?

Stars: 3.5/5

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.

Abby Williams

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.


  • Lily says:

    gah was kind of looking forward to this one, has been on my Book Depository list for a while, but a few things make me err, including the two love interests

    • Verushka says:

      I was too! I didn’t understand why the story needed them bc Abby and the story was actually wonderfully engrossing on their own.

  • Aw too bad it wasn’t a little better for you. Still gotta get my hands on this book. I really want it.

  • That’s a shame about the predictability. That would have bothered me as well.

    • Verushka says:

      The other bits are really well written even though the romance was predictable. The minute they were identified, I knew what was coming.

  • Kelly says:

    I really like the sound of this one Verushka, especially the environmental impact and messages. A predictable romance always tends to ruin a storyline for me too. Authors always underestimate readers and our ability to still enjoy a book where two main characters don’t need to be involved with one another. Some of my favourites have been books with strong friendship elements and no romance whatsoever. Still interested in giving this one a read but will push it back for a rainy day I suspect. Sorry you couldn’t have enjoyed this more Verushka but fabulous review nonetheless <3

    • Verushka says:

      There’s a story at the core that is so compelling, as is Abby and her past in that town. The environmental message was unexpected but turned out to be part of a bigger story being told. I agree — romances have their place, but so too are there stories where they’re just not needed — like in stories where the main characters are just wonderful enough on their own.

  • I’ve heard some mixed things about this book and actually, a lot of people seem to not like it. I do have a copy and hope to read it someday. I like Krysten Ritter but she will always be Jessica Jones to me now and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this is not a book featuring Jessica Jones. Weird I know.

    I’m glad you got some enjoyment out of this but oh no, the dreaded two love interests. Could have done without that!

    • Verushka says:

      Totally could have done without the love interests, Barb, but the other storyline/s in it were so much more compelling. Sighs. I can see why it’s got such mixed reviews though. I HEAR you re: her being Jessica Jones! I totally feel the same way!

  • I was a little curious about this one. It’s a shame about the predictability, but I think it still sounds like a good read. Glad you were able to enjoy inspire of that too.

    • Verushka says:

      It is definitely a good read, even though the love interests were predictable — and Abby away from the romantic interests, is so compelling. I just wish they’d thought she was enough to carry the book on its own.

  • AngelErin says:

    I’ve been curious about this one, but I don’t know if I can deal with the predictability. Sorry this one wasn’t a bit better for you.

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