When I was in elementary and middle school, I lived in Iowa. At my summer camps, I would play in cornfields. My favorite part of the farmer’s market along the Mississippi River was getting fresh sweet corn to eat. I am an Iowan stereotype, and corn is one of my true loves. I was also an anxious little thing who couldn’t even fathom doing anything scary. The T-Rex in the Land Before Time films had me hiding behind my hands until he’d been crushed by rocks or whatever, and the Hydra from Disney’s Hercules? No, thank you, I was not interested, we left the movie theater. My mom has never let me forget we wasted money on the tickets for that one. I had the peer pressure fueled desire to go to the local haunted house at the time, Terror in the Woods, but never the guts to ask to actually go with my classmates.
Not much has changed for me as an adult. My time in Iowa left me feeling incredibly connected to corn—I wax nostalgic whenever I drive by a cornfield—and I have too much natural anxiety to want to participate in anything related to horror. Sometimes it happens, but usually for reasons adjacent to the scary media. When I discovered that Carrie was a musical, I had to see the Sissy Spacek film and read the book. Two years ago, I finally went to my first haunted house, convinced by an ex that it was a good idea since the proceeds went to a local charity, and I hated every second of it. It takes a special creator to truly make me want to dabble in horror.
Rory Power is that creator.
At the insistence of one of my co-workers (who is also from Iowa, which is unimportant for this story but always tickles me when I think about it) at Brazos Bookstore, I picked up Powers’ debut Wilder Girls last year. It terrified me, but something about her prose, her characters, and her ability to construct a foreboding environment kept me reading all through the night. I finished in a day, and I was hungry for more. When I found her announcement for her second novel, Burn Our Bodies Down, I was ready.
Bodies checks all of my boxes: Sophomore standalone novel? Check. Interesting and unique premise? Check. Addictive mystery? Check. Queer lead? Yup, check. Spooky corn?? I didn’t even know this was a box for me, but check, check, check.
Let’s talk about the plot for Burn Our Bodies Down. Margot has lived with her mom ever since she can remember. It’s always been the two of them and their lit candle in their suffocating apartment. Despite being shut down at every turn by her mother to find out about their family past, Margot still wants to know: who are they? Who came before them? How can she find the rest of her family? When she uncovers a bible gifted to her mother as a child, Margot finds the confirmation she needs that there is more to their family than just the two of them, and she leaves for a town called Phalene. Her arrival in the town is not the happy homecoming she expected, though. A fire, a murder (or two), and family secrets run deep in the core of Phalene. Not knowing who to trust, Margot must uncover the truth behind her family lineage before the toxic relationships in her life leave her trapped forever.
This book is so full of twists and turns that it’s hard to discuss the plot in any detail past that. Every detail is a clue, and I don’t want to spoil this journey for anybody. What Powers has done with this book can only be described as magic. Margot wants to know about her family, her history, her story, and Powers keeps me invested in that goal every single second. Powers’ prose engulfs you.
If you loved the internal fear and the uneasy tension of Wilder Girls, you will not be disappointed by Burn Our Bodies Down. Powers has this ability to write environments that are characters themselves. I will never forget the school in Wilder Girls, and I will never forget the pale pink liquid filled corn of Burn Our Bodies Down. Taking something familiar and twisting it just enough to tell you that something is wrong, but not giving you any notion as to what that wrong may be makes me shudder. Even more fun is that Powers in this book focuses more on internal and interpersonal fear and horror. Yes, there is some body horror like in Wilder Girls, but the horror in this thriller is more psychological. It sticks with you. I read Bodies in February, I am writing this review in July, and I still see every visual detail in my mind.
Outside of the environment and the plot, there is one more thing about Bodies that I really appreciate. I love that Powers has written a lead who is queer, but her queerness is not defined by her relationship status. Margot is single, and she is still queer. Her sexuality is not something hidden behind a smokescreen until it is revealed through a relationship that she is A Gay. She can be queer all on her own. You can put this book on your LGBTQIA+ lists even though the lead is single! Thank you, Rory Powers, for doing this. We always need more queer rep that isn’t defined by a love story; we exist on our own, too.
Burn Our Bodies Down is a triumph of unease, and I am waiting with bated breath to see what Rory Powers does next. She has made me a lifelong fan, and through the frightening stories she’s created, she’s made me a braver reader.
Burn Our Bodies Down is available from Delacorte Press.
Cassie Schulz is the Events Assistant for Brazos Bookstore. You can find her on Twitter @kerfufflepuff where she tweets about books, musicals, and cats. You can also find her on Instagram, co-managing the page @tag.ur.lit with a fellow queer disaster who loves YA Lit as much as she does.