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Book: “Burn Down, Rise Up” by Vincent Tirado
Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Stranger Things meets Get Out in this Sapphic Horror debut from nonbinary, Afro-Latine author Vincent Tirado.
An urban legend rumored to be responsible.
And one group of teens determined to save their city at any cost.
For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize’s cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances.
Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York’s past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
If I had a dollar for every moment I saw firsthand someone kvetch about the horror genre ‘becoming woke’ or other such nonsense, I don’t think I’d have a LOT of money, but it would be enough to buy me a nice dinner downtown. I do know that people have been complaining about how more and more horror stories seem to be bringing social issues into plots, but that’s just a dumb frustration because horror has always had its political and sociological angles, for better or for worse. I haven’t heard any such beef with Vicent Tirado’s new teen horror novel “Burn Down, Rise Up”, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it was out there. But the political and sociological possibilities in the horror genre are things that I am always on the look out for, so when read the description for this book I was VERY intrigued. This country has a lot to reckon with when it comes to racist policies and ideals, and putting some of those issues within The Bronx at the forefront WHILE mixing in a deadly Internet game horror story was too interesting to miss. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with a solid history lesson for readers of any age. “Burn Down, Rise Up” has that to be sure.
Given that I am a huge fan of Internet Creepypastas that have these urban legend game factors (such as The Elevator Game or Hide and Seek Alone), there was a lot to like about “Burn Down, Rise Up”. I thought that Tirado did their due diligence when it came to inventing an Internet urban legend game, with nods to real life inspirations while still feeling fairly unique and fresh. I liked the rules, I liked the eerie creepiness of the game itself, and I liked how Tirado worked history of racist policy, violence, and destruction of the Bronx into the game. It’s the history of the Bronx and the violence directed towards Black and Latine people that has the most horrors here, as the beings in this Echo are victims of the fires that plagued the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s and were the result of redlining, inadequate infrastructure, slumlords, and other systemic oppression that made for a dangerous situation in which many buildings burned and many Black and brown people were displaced. Some of the creatures and ghouls that Raquel and her friends meet in The Echo are very clear representations of this, with many burned entities wandering around to a Slumlord antagonist to black mold-esque infections ravaging people beyond the Echo into our world. In terms of actual action and mythos of the Echo, I thought that those points were a bit underdeveloped, with the metaphors being really strong and interesting but the actual supernatural parts being undercooked. I also would have loved a bit more exploration into Raquel’s father’s connections and devotions to Santeria, and more exploration of her own psychic abilities.
As for the characters, I liked Raquel a lot, as she is trying to navigate a sick mother, a despondent friend/crush, and the conflict between her and her best friend Aaron as they both have a crush on Charlize (though he doesn’t know of her feelings). A lot of the obstacles and conflicts she faces of being a teenager, especially an Afro-Latine teenager at that, felt pretty well thought out. Whether it’s anxiety about her feelings for Charlize and whether they are reciprocated or the understandable skittishness of dealing with the NYPD as they investigate Charlize’s cousin Cisco’s disappearance, I knew Raquel as a character and understood her motivations and feelings in the moments of the plot. I was also very interested in one of the entities in the Echo that has been connecting with Raquel referred to as a Man in Corduroy, as while he is creepy and mysterious there is an intriguing essence to him through his dialogue and actions, a morally grey feel that I really liked. Everyone else was serviceable, though perhaps not as well rounded.
All in all, “Burn Down, Rise Up” had some good mythos and some well thought out connections to some dark and racist social history in the Bronx. I liked how Tirado examined this while showing how vibrant and close knit her characters, and the Bronx itself, are. A fun horror that I will definitely be recommending to teens.
Rating 7: A fun horror tale that takes Internet urban legends into politically conscious territory, though some of the supernatural elements are a bit underdeveloped.