A Book For Our Times

Our Hearts Will Burn Us DownOur Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every once in a while, I come across a book that hits the perfect note between “I have something to say” and “I have a story to tell.” This was one of those books. The inescapable thought I had while reading was that this school shooting is not unique. This shooter is not unique. In America, there’s a new incident every week. If we’re lucky enough not to be touched directly by these events, we go numb after a while out of self-preservation. This book rips the Novacaine from our hands and asks us to confront the reality of the lives lost, because these characters and their experiences are not abstract. Everything in here is brutally real, even the more supernatural elements.

This book is not easily categorizable by any means, with genre or otherwise. In speaking with the author, the word that came up was “intangibility,” and that sounds right. The book is concerned the power of intangible emotions, namely intense grief, and the horrific effects of bottling up such emotions, writ large. Within the first few pages, it becomes clear that the memory of the shooting never leaves these characters, and it’s confirmed again in the beautiful final chapters, where our narrators say they’ve tried to forget and move on, move away, and haven’t entirely succeeded. The first-person plural voice was especially striking. It felt like the voice of a community as a whole, struggling to heal in the midst of further tragedies.

Though I’ve had days to gather my thoughts, I’m still a little at a loss for how to articulate it. It was beautiful and resonant and exactly the book I believe everyone should read. Yes, it’s hard and intense and I definitely cried several times, but it also served to wake me up and remind me that mass violence is not a problem for tomorrow, but today.

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Elegy Made Manifest – an interview

y648With the close of September, Anne Valente’s debut novel Our Hearts Will Burn Us Downapproaches its release date. A local school shooting leaves a St. Louis community reeling, especially high school juniors Matt, Zola, Nick, and Christina. The four main characters struggle to piece their lives back together and make sense of the tragedy while a series of fires continues to ravage the homes of victims’ families. Ultimately the story within is a stunning tale of the all-consuming nature of grief and the permanence of loss, in and of itself a statement about a society where mass violence is increasingly common.

Read Jackalope Magazine’s interview with author Anne Valente, where she discusses her debut novel Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down