While this book doesn’t come out until July 31st, I loved it so much I couldn’t resist reviewing it here, for you all! Hopefully it will be something to look forward too this summer.
The Incendiaries tells the stories of Will and Phoebe, their ill-fated romance, and the religious cult that begins to consume their relationship. Will and Phoebe are both college students at a prestigious university in a small New England town, and are soon drawn together during their freshman year. However, both are hiding important things about their past that will come out in ways they could not have imagined. After a religious cult appears in town, with a leader who claims a personal connection to Phoebe, both get sucked in and must confront their own ideas of religion, loss and love. What follows is a multi-faceted account of the downfall of Will and Phoebe’s relationship and Will’s attempts to save both Phoebe and himself.
I admit, I was drawn to this novel because of the mention of a cult, but The Incendiaries turned out to be so much more. The characterization and writing created by Kwon amazed me and kept me hooked. Will and Phoebe are both deep, individual and unique, yet completely relatable. All of their actions seemed true, like something I would experience myself or have known one of my friends to do. It was almost as if I was reading a true account of something that happened in the past (though the ending makes me glad it was all fictitious). Kwon created such a believable cast of characters, inhabiting a very real world, that I couldn’t help but be sucked in to the story.
I really enjoyed the personal histories Kwon created for Will and Phoebe. Their stories and personal views gave me a lot to think about as I read this book, and went through their own mental turmoil along with them. This book focuses heavily on religion and loss, and how the two shape each other. While I am not religious, I was still able to connect to these conflicts, as both Phoebe and Will go through periods of faith and disbelief. I thought a lot about how Will and Phoebe’s unique interactions with faith, and compared them to my own. Within The Incendiaries I found space to contemplate my own history, even while I kept up with a increasingly fast-paced plot.
Through Phoebe, who is a Korean-American, Kwon brings up themes of family, and culture, which I found very compelling. In Phoebe’s transformation, I saw many of my Korean-American friends who have been lucky enough to learn about Korean culture throughout their lives, and are proud of it today. Kwon’s writing showed me a more varied and unique Korean-American experience, and I’m so glad to have learned from it.
I found Kwon’s writing style an almost perfect balance of spare, graceful and expressive. Kwon knew where to embellish and where to take a step back, letting the reader take over some of the imagination. There are some truly beautiful lines in this book, too many for me to quote (and there is no finished book for me to quote from at the moment, alas), so I will just encourage you all to go out and read a few for yourself!
Thank you to Riverhead Books and Edelweiss for an electronic ARC!