Rating: 5 out of 5
Gemma Amor’s Girl on Fire is a wonderful, wild ride of a book. Ruby Miller crashes her car and is inside of it when it goes up in flames. Yet somehow she survives unscathed. Shortly thereafter, men try to prey on her–and she discovers she can produce fire from nothing. She no longer needs food or sleep, but she always feels thirsty no matter how much she drinks. Everybody wants to find Ruby once she starts burning things down. Some want to stop her; others want to study her; still others want to use her as a weapon. And throughout all of it, she burns with rage stored up from the abuse she received at home.
Any empathy Ruby may have had has been burned clean out of her. And when people try to start trouble, her solutions tend to be massive overkill. She may well be the apocalypse made human.
The book moves from perspective to perspective as various people get involved in Ruby’s story. Some sections employ a perspective that’s done surprisingly well here: we hear only one half of a conversation, entirely one person’s voice as they speak to or with their audience. It sounds strange, but it’s very effective. I love the fact that point-of-view switches are clearly labeled at the start of each section, so you always know who’s talking. This is kind of a patchwork story, focusing on specific incidents in Ruby’s life, but there’s enough arc to make it coherent.
This is really a story about empathy (or the lack thereof) between both strangers and acquaintances. It’s also about rebirth. It asks the reader what, if anything, does abuse justify? It also asks us to consider that the apocalypse could genuinely be started by one person’s pain. All in all it’s both beautiful and in some places, rather scary. Ruby is both protagonist and antagonist, and Amor makes that work!
Content note for child abuse and molestation, as well as attempted rape.