One of Refinery29's Best Reads for October
One of Plougshares "Most Necessary Books for the End of 2016"
The lives of four teenagers are capsized by a shocking school shooting and its aftermath in this powerful debut novel, a coming-of-age story with the haunting power of Station Eleven and the bittersweet poignancy of Everything I Never Told You.
As members of the yearbook committee, Nick, Zola, Matt, and Christina are eager to capture all the memorable moments of their junior year at Lewis and Clark High School—the plays and football games, dances and fund-drives, teachers and classes that are the epicenter of their teenage lives. But how do you document a horrific tragedy—a deadly school shooting by a classmate?
Struggling to comprehend this cataclysmic event—and propelled by a sense of responsibility to the town, their parents, and their school—these four "lucky" survivors vow to honor the memories of those lost, and also, the memories forgotten in the shadow of violence. But the shooting is only the first inexplicable trauma to rock their small suburban St. Louis town. A series of mysterious house fires have hit the families of the victims one by one, pushing the grieving town to the edge.
Nick, the son of the lead detective investigating the events, plunges into the case on his own, scouring the Internet to uncover what could cause a fire with no evident starting point. As their friend pulls farther away, Matt and Christina battle to save damaged relationships, while Zola fights to keep herself together.
A story of grief, community, and family, of the search for understanding and normalcy in the wake of devastating loss, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down explores profound questions about resiliency, memory, and recovery that brilliantly illuminate the deepest recesses of the human heart.
The specter of the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 hangs over Valente's haunting first novel. At Louis and Clark High School outside St. Louis, Mo., in 2003, a junior kills 28 students and seven faculty members in a shooting. Four of the survivors are juniors on the yearbook staff Matt, Nick, Christina, and Zola who spend the weeks after the tragedy trying to process the event. But that becomes impossible when, one after another, the houses belonging to the dead students' families are burned down. Matt's father, a police officer, works on the fire investigation but is hard-pressed for answers. The most confounding piece of evidence in every case is that the bodies of the family members appear to have been incinerated out of existence a scientific impossibility. While Matt deals with his closeted lover, Tyler, Christina tries to care for her wounded boyfriend, Ryan, and Zola looks up at the stars for comfort, Nick turns to the Internet for answers as to what might have caused the fires. As these characters try to put their lives back together, the house fires continue, threatening to engulf the entire community. Written in the collective voice of the community, la Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides, Valente (By Light We Knew Our Names) artfully employs short chapters on arson and anatomy, as well as diagrams, newspaper articles, and biographies of the victims on the way to an unforgettable ending, with fire serving as a powerfully fitting metaphor for grief, loss, and our inability to comprehend the nature of fate.