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When people talk about high school as the best time of their lives, you have to wonder if they mean it. Everyone has difficult memories from that awkward period of one’s life --- and yet sometimes life doesn’t get much better than that strange and mysterious passage. Krysten Ritter has built a fantastic, thrilling and literate novel around the people you leave behind when you go forth into the world, daring to believe there is something greater out there than you have already experienced. BONFIRE is the story of an incendiary court case matched with a decades-old mystery about a young lawyer’s former frenemy from high school --- and Ritter has all the chops to make it a great ride.

Abby Williams is an environmental lawyer who returns to her hometown to take on a plastics conglomerate that may be poisoning the community. As soon as she returns to Barrens, Indiana, a hick town where most people stay after high school, working at said conglomerate, Abby begins to run into people who used to make her anxious and give her high school years a nasty tinge. However, her frenemy Kaycee Mitchell is nowhere to be found. In fact, no one seems to know where she is. Or do they? Everybody else is still here --- some married with kids, some continuing to troll for good times without a concern for any discernable future.

"This is a compelling and readable book that doesn’t shy away from the messy specifics of all relationships."

Abby becomes involved with some of the jocks who had shunned her in the past, using her association with them to get information about what’s going on. Her investigative powers get the best of her, and every relationship becomes an opportunity for her to delve into the past in a way that not many people seem too happy to relive. When she learns about “The Game,” a bizarre ritual that leads back again to shady dealings at her senior year in high school, Abby enters into a world of darkness and intrigue that clearly she never had imagined existed.

BONFIRE is a very well-done thriller --- a mystery that we don’t figure out on page three, a series of characters who aren’t always what they first seem to be, a sense of tension and dread that keeps us turning pages faster and faster as we race to find out what will happen to Abby and her cohorts. Ritter is a good actress, but she is an excellent writer. Finding the means to collide past and present with masterful touches of character and dramatic action, she makes BONFIRE a slow-burning investigation that gives us a multi-dimensional heroine who must grapple with what it means to go home --- dealing with a dying parent, admitting her failings and understanding how the place she comes from will never leave her, no matter how hard she has tried to put it behind her.

This is a compelling and readable book that doesn’t shy away from the messy specifics of all relationships. BONFIRE is most certainly the first of what will be a series of novels. I’d love to see Abby come back. You will, too.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on December 8, 2017

by Krysten Ritter