Together We Caught Fire is a messy, shockingly real YA love story

Photo: Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson.. Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Photo: Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson.. Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing /

Eva V. Gibson’s debut YA novel, Together We Caught Fire, is an unflinching look at the messy nature of love and the lingering effects of grief.

On paper, Eva V. Gibson’s debut novel, Together We Caught Fire, sounds like your typical YA romance, just with the ever-traditional love triangle taken up a notch. (It makes the protagonist’s unsuitable crush the stepbrother she’s forced to share a bathroom with, rather than merely an unattainable boy at school.) Yet, the actual story turns out to be anything but typical.

Though Together We Caught Fire includes multiple messy love stories, at its heart its a novel about grief, loss and the ways we struggle to carry on in the face of how much it often hurts to be human.

If you read a lot of the book reviews around here, you’ll know that contemporary YA isn’t normally yours truly’s particular thing as a reader. (I tend to fall more on the fantasy side of the spectrum, when it comes to YA fiction.) Yet, Together We Caught Fire really impressed me with its raw lyricism, and its dedication to truly portraying how difficult it can be to let go of the things that haunt us. The novel may rightly be described as a story of forbidden love, and that’s certainly true, but it’s also so much more than that.

The story starts off simple enough. Lane Jamison’s life is turned upside down after her widowed father announces he’s getting married again and that his future wife just happens to be the mother of the boy Lane’s had a secret crush on for years. There are tons of growing pains in store, as the group tries to figure out how to become a family, as Lane does her best to surpress her feelings – and not notice the way that Grey sometimes looks at her when they cross paths in front of the bathroom.

To make things even more complicated: Grey has a long-term girlfriend, and she’s Lane’s BFF. Sadie, however, is many things Lane is not – sparkly, outgoing, determined to build a future with Grey on her terms, no matter what he may or may not want out of their life together. As that relationship begins to teeter toward a meltdown, Lane herself begins a fling with Sadie’s mysterious older brother Connor, who has his own issues to deal with. Their relationship delights Sadie, irritates Grey and confuses Lane, who suddenly has to decide not just what Connor means to her, really, but how many lines she’s willing to cross for the chance at the boy she’s been obsessing over since eighth grade.

All four characters in our main quartet are wonderfully complex and flawed, each with their own baggage that they must all attempt to hash out, both separately and together. Connor, a former homeless teen and drug addict, is slowly learning to trust others again. Sadie lives under the thumb of her uber-religious family, who no surprise has a lot of feelings about things like pre-marital relationships and the role of women in a family. Grey is afraid to voice the things he wants, on the off chance he might suddenly get them. And Lane lives everyday in the shadow of her mother’s suicide, which she discovered when she was just five years old.

Remember when I said this story was dark and kind of difficult? Yeah.

The various romances at the center of Together We Caught Fire may be the reason that this book snags readers’ attentions, but what will hopefully grab on to them and hold them is the deft care with which this story handles grief and trauma. All of these characters are broken people, and watching their sharp edges collide against one another – in both good ways and bad, is both fascinating and deeply moving.

There’s a fair amount of sexiness (Lane and Connor have a smoldering chemistry together even as she occasionally pines for Grey), but most importantly, there’s a lot of talking. About what each character wants and deserves, about how they’ve ended up the way they are, and how they’re coping with the day to day act of living in a world that’s thrown so much bad at them with relatively little good.

Together We Caught Fire is that rare YA contemporary story that doesn’t take it easy on its readers: This book is raw and difficult at points, but its payoff is more than worth the work it takes to get there.

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Together We Caught Fire is now available everywhere.