A gripping story of trauma and recovery in After The Fire by Will Hill

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will hill after the fire coverAfter The Fire by Will Hill
Usborne Publishing Ltd., 2017
496 pages.
After the Fire
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
We rate it: 5/5

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“The things I’ve seen are burned into me, like scars that refuse to fade”.

Book review: After The Fire by Will Hill

after the fire book will hill cover detail

I picked up the award-winning After The Fire by Will Hill without any knowledge of its subject. The story quickly immersed me in an intense atmosphere of fear, suspicion and confusion. Gunshots and burning fire fill the disjointed memories of survivor Moonbeam in the After the Fire book. It is not clear how her family of Brothers and Sisters – the Lord’s Legion community – reached this devastating crisis.

Moonbeam is recovering in a Secure Unit in Odessa, Texas. She struggles to cope in the aftermath of the destruction of the Legion’s compound. The teenager is unable to speak about the disaster where many people died. She picks up a paintbrush and creates images of a small house by the sea.

Process of recovery

Moonbeam’s parents joined the Lord’s Legion when she was very young. Her experiences have left her in severe distress and unable to trust outsiders and the authorities. Throughout the novel, Moonbeam begins to unpick the truth about her relationships. Her memories of her mother, her friend Nate and other members of the community are confused.

Other children and young people who survived the fire are also in the care of the Secure Unit. Group sessions allow Moonbeam to explore her complicated relationships with them. She feels protective towards the children, especially Honey, a younger girl who shows great resilience. Moonbeam is wary of older teenager Luke. He is unable to break from the hold that the cult had on him.

after the fire will hill cover

Scattered memories

Moonbeam knows a great deal about the community. She has learned a lot about charismatic and controlling leader, Father John. She witnessed the events which led to the community’s dangerous end. But trauma clouds her judgement in the fire’s aftermath. The demanding screaming of Father John continues to fill her mind. The preacher’s voice repeatedly silences Moonbeam.

Moonbeam goes through a process of adjustment and recovery in sessions with her therapist, Doctor Hernandez. She begins to put together pieces of the Legion’s history from her scattered memories. Agent Carlyle who is investigating the events joins the sessions. He asks questions which can make Moonbeam uncomfortable and challenges her further.

Reaching breaking point Moonbeam has to choose whether to be honest to the two men who listen to her. Most crucially can she be honest with herself about her role in events?

fire burns illustrate after the fire will hill summary & review

Image by Suhas Rawool from Pixabay

Non-linear narrative

The narrative of the cult’s journey into increased isolation, abusive rules and practices are gripping enough. But what really makes this novel so special and engaging is the way Moonbeam tells her story.

The survivor has to build trust in her therapist and in the process she is going through. Moonbeam also has to rebuild her sense of self. She must learn to trust in herself as she goes through both guilt and denial.

Telling the narrative in a non-linear way, as Moonbeam explores different timeframes of her story, works really well. The reader goes through the emotional journey with Moonbeam and feels close to her. The story skips between events both before and after the fire. I felt immersed in Moonbeam’s process, even sharing her initial distrust of her therapist.

Young adults who identify with the strong teenage protagonist will find this intense book a great read. It is a story of trauma, survival and resilience that adults will find thought-provoking and gripping too.

There is a fascinating afterword by Will Hill, author of the book. He reveals how the inspiration for the novel came to him. Hill is clear that After The Fire is a fiction. However, he based the story of After The Fire on real events. Hill has researched the Waco siege of 1993. He was drawn to records of surviving children’s recovery. The book also has a useful section of Discussion Questions for study and teaching in schools.

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About the author

Will Hill has worked as a bookseller and a bartender before becoming a full-time writer. Sensibly, like me, he is afraid of spiders and likes cats! He has also written a five-book series called Department 19. Find out more about these and other Will Hill books here.

Content and age guidelines

Readers should be aware that the book contains violence and a graphic description of a disturbing suicide. The publisher recommends it for young adults aged 14 plus and it is not suitable for younger children.

If you are looking for a gentler YA read you may enjoy this title. You can find YA reads and books for the rest of the family too in our summer reading list.

If you liked this…

If you liked this After the Fire review, you might like more gripping reads. Check out Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean. This is a realistic fiction based on a true story written for older children. Check out my full review here.

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– Find lots more great books for Young Adults here at readinginspiration.com –

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Angela is the kind of parent who wants to discuss the latest hero movie or middle-grade book series on the school run. She grew up on the Lord of the Rings books and has a background in education & publishing. She believes all children & young people can enjoy wonderful story-telling and loves sharing ideas with others.