Where There's Smoke / E.B. Vickers / Book Review


At eighteen years old, Calli's all alone in the world, a reality that's just starting to set in. She's barely had time to recover from her father's funeral--and her freezer's still filling up with generously donated casseroles--when she finds a burned and broken girl on the edge of her property, curled up beneath a burlap sack.

Calli doesn't know what else to do besides take the girl inside and get her cleaned up. The girl can't--or won't--talk to Calli, but Calli has a sneaking suspicion about who the girl is... or at least where she came from. Life has never been easy in the small desert town Harmony, but Calli knows it's leagues better than life on the religious commune nearby.

As Calli slowly nurses the girl she decides to call Ash back to health, word spreads about Calli's "visitor." The police come knocking... and it's not just the detectives who are interested.



This book was unexpected to me, in both good and bad ways. I know we shouldn't judge books by their covers, but I really wasn't expecting much here. The quality of the writing far surpassed my expectations. But the story itself was... kind of bland. I loved it at the start, when the novelty of the writing was still with me, but by the last act, I was kind of over it and waiting for something good to happen. Overall, it fell a little flat for me.


Unsettling This book sets the stage immediately. The small town here is intimate... and perhaps smothering. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody's also keeping secrets. There's just something about starting with a funeral in such an intimate setting that gives a creepy tone to this writing from the start. It hooks you on the first page and really draws you in. You can't be sure of whom to trust, and I like that.

Anxiety E.B. Vickers does a great job of really creating a sense of anxiety. Calli is doing all she can for Ash, who needs her and who is undoubtedly in trouble. But you can't lie to the cops, not even by omission... especially in a small town settling like this, where you can't really be sure the cops aren't in on it, whatever "it" might be. Calli digs herself into a hole, and there's a sense that for all the good she's trying to do, things are really going to catch up to her. This isn't a relaxing read, and I like that.

Well Balanced I usually take issue with YA books where the characters have fully entered the adult sphere, but not so here. Calli is an adult, eighteen and out of high school. She's got a five-year plan in place. She's got a house, and she's got no parents looking after her (as unfortunate as that might be, in her particular circumstance). But even though she is adult in all of these ways, she's definitely far from being an adult. She's still figuring things out, even as she's going through the motions of adulthood, and I like that. She's still young, and that makes her the perfect older YA protagonist.


Despite all this book might have going for it, it doesn't really cover any new terrain. The writing is pretty good, but the story has been tread a hundred times before. That's not necessarily bad. I just didn't find myself as invested by the second half of the book, where the novelty of great writing had worn off and I was waiting for the twists to come. Generic

This book contains a series of short vignettes, diversions from the main narrative that written in poetry. These vignettes reveal backstories, connect pieces, and do a lot of heavy lifting for the plot. And I'm not really sure what the point of them was. I mean, I know the point. The plot wouldn't have made sense--the characters wouldn't have been as rich--without them, but at the same time, why poetry? And why couldn't these backstories be revealed in a more natural way? It felt like a gimmick and also like a cop-out. Vignettes

There is one great sort of "twist" in this book, and I didn't really like it. I knew something was coming, and so I wasn't surprised, not really. There weren't enough breadcrumbs put down for me to figure out which way the plot was going, and so any outcome wasn't really unexpected. But the revelation here... it just wasn't what I wanted. It wasn't what I hoped for the characters. It didn't have the emotional resonance that could have made this book really good. It was just sort of flat, at the end of the read. Disappointing. Soul Crushing



Fans of the cultish closeness of Amelia Brunskill's Wolfpack will like this new in-it-together duo. Those who loved the small-town-big-secrets nature of Angeline Boulley's Firekeeper's Daughter will like this new cast of beloved but suspicious characters.


Publisher: Knopf Books For Young Readers
Date: December 12, 2023
Series: N/A
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


  1. Thanks for a great review. Sounds like a mixed bag. I read a book like this a while back about a commune and for a minute I thought it was this one, then realized this is new. But it did sound familiar.

  2. I’m sorry the story was disappointing. Another wonderful review ER!

  3. interesting, even though you gave score 6/10.....
    love to read your review....

    Happy holidays to you and yours

  4. Great and honest review here! A little like a mixed bag...

  5. This sounds like a mixed bag indeed. It sounds good and intriguing from the synopsis, so sorry to hear it fell a little flat.

  6. I like it when I have to figure out and keep guessing until the reveal, so I also find it anticlimactic when the plot twist doesn't surprise me at all. Hope you get to read more exciting books next year.

  7. Great review! I do agree that if you are going to follow well-worn tropes, you have to offer a new take on it. Otherwise it can get boring really fast.

  8. The vignettes sound like they slowed the pace down. I'm always disappointed if the story ends in bad way for the characters, too. Hard to get past that.


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