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Fiction General Fiction Suspense

ARC Review: The Way You Burn by Christine Meade

Thank you so much to Books Forward for the advanced copy of The Way You Burn by Christine Meade! The book was received in exchange for an honest review, and all opinions are my own.

Here is the description from Amazon:

When David approaches his New Hampshire cabin one cool October night to find it engulfed in flames, he knows his girlfriend Hope set the fire. At least, he’s pretty sure he knows.

David first decides to upend the creature comforts of his post-collegiate life and try roughing it for a year after he inherits two acres of land and a rustic cabin from his deceased grandfather. Life at the cabin proves to be more difficult than expected, however, and it all starts with the woman he loves—Hope—whose dark past is written in the twisting pink scars covering her body. Their relationship is challenged after his car slides through an intersection one dark night and, later, his realization that someone is out there, watching him through the trees.

Over the course of five seasons, David struggles to maintain his relationship with Hope. Ultimately, in an attempt to understand the sacrifices she has had to make, he decides to rewrite their story. In doing so, he explores the lessons he’s left with–after everything he thought mattered is gutted or burned away—and the surprising bits of wisdom he finds in the ashes.

Those years right after college are when a large percentage of new adults are off in the world learning how to be successful and happy humans.  As a 30 something year old this is my favorite coming-of-age group to read about, as it is easier for me to relate to.  David is the main character and he decides to leave his parents house to go live in the New Hampshire cabin that his recently deceased grandfather left him.

David has recently met a young woman named Hope, who has some obvious physical scarring caused by burns.  Before too long he gets  glimpses of her inner issues in the form of small manipulations, but he lets her get away with it due to a certain level of naivety.  A large portion of the book is about David learning some of Hope’s past, then he has to balance her traumas with the need to set boundaries with her behavior.  This is difficult for adults of ANY age and eventually… well … you can see in the description that she burns his home down.  I felt like David made {mostly} good decisions as he learned his lessons.

The first most obvious thing that I encountered in the book was Meade’s use of the second person narrative.  It was a bit hard to get used to reading David’s letters in this form but it put me right into his head as he tried to do his best with the situations he encountered.

I am going to brush over the setting too and just say that David’s land sounds absolutely gorgeous.  Meade does a great job describing the changing colors of the leaves, the pond’s eco system, and the other sights, sounds, smells, and weather phenomena of the woods.  I grew up by a river and can relate to the effects of water and a fishing hole on the soul.

The book has a small suspense element as well which I really enjoyed.  David keeps finding a mysterious horse tied up in the woods among other small oddities, and he is convinced that someone else is living in his proximity.  This is actually a great storyline, no spoilers though.  I believe that this storyline is used to show how David’s maturity level grew to allow such a tasteful handling of tbe situation.

So obviously the relationships in the book are David’s catalysts in personal growth.  My absolute favorite one is with an old man named Harold that David meets, befriends, and ultimately becomes the caregiver for.  Harold is an old timer full of stories and no judgement, who teaches David what love truly looks like.  Harold’s stories about women in the insane asylum, and his wife’s devotion to caring for them, gives David insight into some major historical women’s issues and a tool for understanding his own family’s secrets.

I can’t discuss Hope too much without spoilers but I just never liked her, despite the traumas of her past.  Even with institutionalized years she never developed good coping skills.  She drove me nuts controlling David in small ways, and my little nurse brain is over here thinking “this woman is a CNA? Is she hurting or controlling her patients like this?” It didn’t seem like a good idea for her to be a caregiver at all.  Speaking of: Hope’s mother is a nurse, and at one point the book states “two generations of nurses” – technically wrong, as it is illegal for non-licensed personnel to call themselves a nurse.  Small details but she should have written “two generations of caregivers”  or something similar.

Last but not least let me use that thought to  segue into the infamous OneReadingNurse medical talk portion of the review:  actually … Kudoes to Meade on her portrayal of the hospitalized character.  A fat embolism is a huge risk of orthopedic surgeries and she nailed it as far as a logical death.  The staff acted pretty realistically as well, although I was surprised that no one took down next of kin contact info.  I might have teared up during the funeral portion. I also think Meade did an amazing job portraying Harold’s descent into dementia and the additional services he needed, from basic forgetfulness to the lowest possible moment in the bathroom with David.   I don’t want to touch the mental health portions but it seems like it was handled tastefully, and I hope that Hope did or does  actually get the additional help that she needed.

Whew, that was a tough review because the book is so deep! Let me pull back and say that while the book handles some tough themes, it is superbly well written.  I would recommend it for anyone out of college at least, anyone that enjoys a good coming of age tale, and men or women alike trying to understand life’s complexities.

Thank you so much again to Jackie at Books Forward for the advanced copy! It releases 4/14 through She Writes Press so add it to your TBR now!

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