From the author of the acclaimed Blood Water Paint, a new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister's rapist escapes with no prison time.
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 her want to learn "how to use a 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 fifteenth-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.
McCullough (Blood Water Paint) uses the legend of Marguerite de Bressieux, a medieval French noblewoman who avenged her sexual assault by going into battle against her attackers, to view the story of Em Morales, a biracial (Guatemalan and presumed white) Seattle high schooler reeling after her sister Nor's brutal rape at a fraternity house. When Em's attempts at social justice surrounding the event cause Nor harassment at college, Em begins writing Marguerite's story through free verse as a way to express her anger at the patriarchal structure that seeks to silence both Em and Nor. With the help of nonbinary medieval enthusiast Jess, Em explores parallels between Marguerite's and Nor's experiences. When Em uncovers a painful family secret and becomes consumed by her research, she withdraws from those around her. In a moving back-and-forth between Marguerite's verse story and Em's prose recounting, McCullough questions chivalric codes of the Middle Ages and today's meet-cute expectations. Though extended metaphor use can feel labored, McCullough emphatically confronts the toll that sexual violence takes and deftly questions who gets to control history's narrative. Kobabe's black-and-white illustrations border the poems, reflecting illuminated manuscripts. Ages 14 up. \n