10:00 am EST, February 11, 2020

‘Together We Caught Fire’ book review: A devastatingly beautiful debut novel

Darkly romantic with the perfect balance of angst and vulnerability, Eva V. Gibson’s Together We Caught Fire is a must-read novel for fans of contemporary YA.

Lane Jamison had fallen for Greyson McIntyre years ago and since then, has just watched him from afar. That is, until fate intervenes and he’s suddenly her new step-brother. Not only that, but they spend most of their waking lives together; between school, mornings and evenings at home, and sleepless nights, he’s around all the time.

If that wasn’t complicated enough, Lane can’t even tell Greyson how she feels because he has Sadie, his sweet, longtime girlfriend. So Lane does what any teenager would do in this situation: pretend it’s not happening and allow it to eat at her from the inside out. Luckily, however, she doesn’t have to play awkward third wheel with the happy couple as Sadie’s brother Connor completes their hang-out squad and makes for a pretty great distraction.

But, as time goes on, her relationships with both Greyson and Connor deepen and expand beyond her comfort zone of control. The more she’s forced to consider not only what she thinks she wants for her life but also how she sees herself, the more helpless she is at keeping her traumatic past at bay.

When a horrific event at a party shatters Lane’s world and sends her spiraling, she’s forced to take stock of her life and figure out how much she’ll let her past dictate who she wants to be in the future.

Honestly, it’s hard to believe Together We Caught Fire is a debut novel. Though the story is framed through the lens of a budding, brooding romance between step-siblings, this YA novel is so much more than that, in every meaningful way possible.

I’d like to mention up top that this novel deals with quite a few sensitive topics and is not one for those who are easily triggered. Suicide and self-harm, drugs and some mental abuse, unhealthy relationships and general trauma… there’s a lot packed into these pages. However, although a lot of these are difficult topics, they’re handled especially well here. They’re not used for their potential shock factor but instead, are used to inform character personalities and foster growth. If you can stomach them, the uncomfortable and triggering subjects make for a satisfying and gripping read.

Together We Caught Fire is a dark romantic novel, but moreso in the classic way, in that its rich and luxurious language (reminiscent of Isaac Marion, the author of the Warm Bodies series) creates an atmosphere similar to those of the dark romantic poets. Gibson’s language isn’t flowery, but rather feels like it’s rising up from that voice in the back of your mind that constantly seeds dark thoughts and encourages rumination. It’s irresistible and cyclical, drawing the reader into Lane’s downward-spiraling stream of consciousness.

But, as with dark romanticism, it’s not all doom and gloom. Gibson strikes the perfect balance with her words and her language to create an atmosphere that fosters hope and love at the same time that it revels in the darkness.

Without that carefully-crafted balance, Together We Caught Fire simply wouldn’t work as a novel. If it were to lean too much into its lighter, more carefree contemporary YA moments, the darker aspects would feel hokey and pointless. Leaning too much into the darkness, on the other hand, this book would become far too depressing and lose a lot of its heart. Eva V. Gibson’s writing and storycrafting here feels effortless and doesn’t draw attention to itself, but it deserves recognition.

Admittedly, I didn’t dive into this novel for its dark romantic themes and atmosphere. What hooked me was the fascinating step-sibling romance dynamic teased at the outset.

Together We Caught Fire

What can I say? Love is complicated and has no regard for social conventions or weird situations. I enjoy reading stories that explore experiences and life stories unlike my own, and Lane’s situation intrigued me from the moment I read this book’s synopsis.

But I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am that what Together We Caught Fire delivers is so much better than what I thought this book would explore or do.

Yes, Lane and Greyson’s complicated relationship with each other is very much front and center in this novel. Though step-sibling relations can be a tough subject to depict because of inherent “ickyness,” the portrayal here never comes close to crossing that line or feeling taboo. Lane and Greyson are very much painted as people first and step-siblings second.

In addition to the step-sibling romance dynamic, there’s also a sort of love triangle happening in this novel as well. Now generally, I’m not a fan of love triangles and see them as just lazy writing. (I mean, come on. Enough with the “Who will she choose?” already.) But, with the incredibly organic way the love triangle progresses and shifts, by the end it doesn’t feel like there ever really was a triangle to deal with in the first place. I really, really enjoyed how much the story convinces the reader of the path forward at the same time (as well as the same pace) it convinces Lane.

Also, the romance among the love triangle is just really swoon-worthy, okay? I can’t count how many times my brain screamed “Now KISS!” while reading this book. Neither of the two male romantic interests are perfect, but it’s clear what draws Lane to each of them: Similar to her, they both struggle with the darkness inside as well as their current situations. That being said, both guys also bend over backwards for the people they love, making sure they feel safe and supported. Because Lane’s relationships with Connor and Greyson are so different, it’s thankfully easy to forget that they’re all in a love triangle together.

But Together We Caught Fire isn’t about this complicated love triangle. Not really.

At its core, this novel is about finding yourself and figuring out what *YOU* want while trying to balance the complicated situations the world throws at you. Lane’s father fell in love with her longtime crush’s mother and now she’s Greyson’s step-sister. That combined with the ongoing and unyielding trauma of witnessing her mother’s death as a child has culminated in a girl who thinks she knows what she wants but is too hesitant to go after it or to come up with a new path for herself. Yes, these types of stories are prevalent throughout contemporary YA literature (as well as romance novels), but they’re not told nearly as well as what Eva V. Gibson has done here.

Together We Caught Fire didn’t go at all where I thought it would from what little I knew of it before cracking it open, but, for that, I’m deeply grateful. Equally affecting and enthralling, this YA novel tackles a lot of topics at once but without ever feeling contrived or overloaded. The romance is incredibly well-done and heart-pounding, and the conversations of identity are strikingly poignant.

There’s so much more to Together We Caught Fire than what meets the eye, but that’s what will make you want to obsessively binge this stunning novel in one sitting.

Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson is available now. Be sure to buy your copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, or your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” shelf!

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