BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon [in Booklist]

Looming death, missing parents, God, and reinvention turn an unlikely pair, Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall, into lovers at privileged Edwards University in upstate New York.

In the fresh, transformative independence that is college life, Phoebe can forget her aching connection to the piano, hide her debilitating guilt over her mother’s tragic death, and eschew her estranged father’s religion. Will, who transfers from a small Bible college on scholarship, finds distance from his failed adoration of God, worry about his ever-fragile mother, and dismissal of his father.

Will’s hunger, physical and emotional, is magnetic, holding the desperate lovers together until dropout John Leal – a savior to some, a charlatan to others, with his zealous stories of horrific imprisonment in a North Korean gulag – invades their orbit, and violence implodes their bond.

Kwon’s debut has all the elements of what should be a stupendous success – exquisite prose, vivid characterizations, and astute observations – yet somewhere between spark and explosion, the narrative strays unnecessarily from the essential, then becomes overly elliptical to provide a persuasive finale.

YA/Mature Readers: Kwon’s college setting and student characters navigating the difficult transition into adulthood should resonate with mature teens.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, June 1, 2018

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2018


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