Just when I’ve decided that Mean Girl stories must be on their way out, I pick up two in a row: last week, Mariah Fredericks’ Season of the Witch, and this week, Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s Fire with Fire. Like Season of the Witch, Fire with Fire is a revenge story with a paranormal twist; unlike Fredericks’ book, which is a standalone, Fire with Fire is the second in a series.
It’s about three girls who live on a small Massachusetts island: Lillia, super-privileged and part of the ultra-popular set; Kat, a tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks; and Mary, a shy girl who lives with her artist aunt in their ramshackle ancestral home. On the surface, they have nothing in common, but as they learned in the first book, appearances can be very, VERY deceiving. Long story short, they team up, Strangers on a Train–style, to enact revenge on each other’s enemies.
This installment has the same format as its predecessor, in that the three girls take turns narrating chapters, and it picks up just after the first one ended, with the girls dealing with the consequences of their actions—guilty feelings, concerns about getting found out and so on—but also with the somewhat contradictory frustration that their main target isn’t more miserable.
If you’re looking for literary pyrotechnics or a nuanced and profound exploration of female relationships, bullying and high school political maneuvering, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere. As in the first book, the voices are mostly interchangeable—you can tell the girls apart by the life details that they share, more than by any real differences in narrative styles—and the issues are dealt with on a CW level, rather than on an Oscar Bait level.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Personally, I’ll take the CW over Oscar Bait on any day of the week.
Just because it’s a popcorn and Milk Duds sort of read, though, doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty going on, both in terms of plotting and emotion! The characters’ feelings are so mixed and so constantly morphing that my sympathies—and even alliances—shifted right along with theirs, and it’s especially nice to see a book about revenge that deals so heavily with the blowback that comes not from exposure, but from one’s own empathy and conscience. The explanation of the paranormal element—which I was ready to dismiss as unnecessary until it TOTALLY WON ME OVER in the last 100 pages—ended up being so awesomely unexpected** that I’m considering going back and re-reading both books.
Finally—most impressively?—Han and Vivian kept me totally entertained and engaged from start to finish: I read all 500 pages IN ONE SITTING. Really, what more can a girl ask for?
*PLEASE LET IT BECOME A SHOW ON THE CW.
**I only figured it out a few chapters before Mary did.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.