Let me start by saying that Joy McCullough’s debut novel Blood Water Paint is one of my favorite books of all time. Certainly one of my favorite books I’ve ever worked on.
This is her second YA and I absolutely adored it as well! Where Blood Water Paint was historical and mostly in verse, We Are The Ashes, We Are The Fire is contemporary and mostly in prose, but with some historical verse sections thrown in.
⚠️TW: rape and verbal abuse towards sexual assault survivors
We follow Em in the aftermath of her sister’s rape case. Her sister, Nor, was raped at her college and Em pushes her to pursue the case in court to find justice. In the first few chapters we find out that her attacker is found guilty, but that the judge lets the boy walk free with time served. Em is understandably disillusioned by the whole thing. She writes a piece in her school’s newspaper and takes to social media – further igniting the flames surrounding Nor.
Through all of this she meets Jess, a non-binary friend at her school, who then tells her about Marguerite de Bressieux – a female knight from the 1400s who hunted down rapists and got justice for women. Em becomes entranced by her story, and begins to write poetry detailing her legend.
All of these strands come together in this fiercely feminist novel about survivors, rape culture, and what it means to pursue and find justice. The book is absolutely stunning.