Hey there horror fans, I’m Jessica Avery and I’ll be delivering your weekly brief of all that’s ghastly and grim in the world of Horror. Whether you’re looking for a backlist book that will give you the willies, a terrifying new release, or the latest in horror community news, you’ll find it here in The Fright Stuff.
The reason I started adding these sort of “Fright Stuff Book of the Month” newsletters to my monthly roster was to give me the space to focus on one book that I’d read recently that really got to me. Lists are fun, but sometimes I want to sink my teeth into a text, shake it a bit, and see what falls out. Because, as I know you’re all aware, there is some incredible horror being published right now. Particularly by groups whose voices have been underrepresented by the genre in the past. This month’s book pick is one that has stuck with me since I finished it, not just because of all the mold and rot (my favorite), or the sweet Sapphic romance, or that gorgeous neon cover I’m obsessed with.
But also because it’s a vital book, the message and themes of which will always be important and relevant. More so now than ever.
Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado
Burn Down, Rise Up is the debut YA novel of non-binary, Afro-Latine author, Vincent Tirado. Set in Tirado’s native Bronx, the book introduces readers to fifteen year old Raquel, whose life has just been upended by a violent attack that leaves her mother in a coma, infected by some unidentifiable mold-like substance that is slowly killing her. At the same time, Cisco – the cousin of Raquel’s crush Charlize – disappears and eye witnesses identify him as the person who attacked and infected Raquel’s mother. Along with two other teens, Raquel and Charlize must venture into a world of ghosts and dark histories, chasing a dangerous urban legend that may hold the key to saving their loved ones. But only if the girls can survive the Echo Game.
Sinister urban legends and Sapphic horror are always catnip for me, so obviously I leapt at the chance to read Burn Down, Rise Up. And it was every bit as fantastic as I expected it to be. But what really struck me when I was reading, and stuck with me long after, was Tirado’s use of Bronx history as the backbone of their novel. I went into this novel knowing nothing about the history of the Bronx, and came out on the other side both astounded by my own lack of knowledge and horrified and enraged once again at how much blatant racism and inhumane cruelty can be acted out in a single location.
But then, the whole point of the Echo Game is that there are points in history so terrible that they leave a permanent mark on the world. After all, what else are ghosts.
Tirado’s novel is a scathing indictment of the worst parts of the Bronx’s history, played out by literally walking their characters through a distorted otherworld where an avatar of every Slum Lord who ever left his tenants in rotting houses or burned them out for profit now rules over a scorched land of wraiths and violence. But it’s also a novel about hope, and perseverance as a community. Fighting back as a community.
In a conversation about the history of the Bronx that took place early in the book, Raquel’s father pointed out that in the aftermath of the Bronx burning, it was the locals who brought the borough back to life: “We had to rebuild the Bronx, literally. A few grassroots organizations formed. They taught residents carpentry so we could actually renovate our homes. We took special care of it because it was ours. And we had no one else – only each other.” (77) And when it comes to defeating the Echo Game and saving her mother, Raquel learns for herself how much stronger she is, how much stronger they all are, when they stand together and fight back.
I said in my May new reads Fright Stuff that if you buy one book this month it should be Burn Down, Rise Up and I mean it. There are a lot of amazing books coming out this month, but this one is something really special. It has so much heart and humanity. Tirado took a dark, awful moment in history, shined a light on the consequences of letting hate run rampant, but also showed their readers that out of the worst, bleakest of times, communities can survive and rise together.
“What else does a phoenix do when it’s done burning?” (76)
Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth
Most of you have probably already seen this Best Horror Books of All Time list from Esquire floating around your social media feeds, but if you haven’t be sure to check it out!
Okay, so not all thrillers are horror, but some are! And I can’t resist a book that embodies the phrase “Be Gay, Do Crimes”. So head over to Novel Suspects for a list of YA Thrillers Featuring LGBTQIA+ Folks Getting Into Trouble.
As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.