YA Weekend Audio: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing (July 7, 2020)
Length: 10 hrs and 9 mins
Narrator: Lauren Ezzo
Rory Power is an author I’ve wanted to read for a while, ever since her debut Wilder Girls took the YA world by storm. Thus it was with great excitement that I started Burn Our Bodies Down, which I was fortunate enough to receive from NetGalley’s new audiobook review program. I loved the description of the book, and the fact it sounded closer to an “American Farmland Gothic” than a true horror. So then, why didn’t I enjoy this more? Well…a lot of it to do with the main character.
Margot has always been something of an outsider. The only close relationship she’s ever had is with her mom Josephine, and she’s not exactly mother of the year. Josephine works a lot, and even when she’s at home in their tiny run-down apartment, she’s emotionally distant or volatile, causing Margot to tiptoe on eggshells whenever she’s around. And when she asks about her father, or any question about family really, Josephine simply shuts her out. Finally, Margot has had enough. Defying her mom, she uncovers an old photograph with a name and phone number of someone she believes is her maternal grandmother. After calling the number, the old woman who answers confirms Margot’s suspicions and extends an invitation to visit her in a nearby rural town called Phalene.
Excited at the prospect of answers at long last, Margot travels by herself to Phalene to meet her Gram. Upon her arrival though, Margot quickly gets the sense that things aren’t quite right. First, Vera, her grandmother, is not the exactly the kind little old lady she led Margot to believe. Her farm, Fairhaven, is an eerie place, yielding strange and unnatural crop. Soon, Margot starts seeing and experiencing disturbing things that defy explanation. She came to Phalene to learn more about where her family came from, but the longer she stays, the more she understands why her mother left this town, never to speak of it again.
As usual, I’ll start with the good. First, we have the incredible atmosphere. Burn Our Bodies Down is all about the setting—a creepy small town that feels isolated and forgotten by the rest of the world. What amazed me most was how such a wide open space with its sprawling fields and endless skies could still result in such a strong sensation of claustrophobia and suffocation. Phalene feels like its own little world, the tensions growing ever more stifling as the pressure builds within. As the reader, you’re made to feel acutely aware that this tight little bubble can burst at any time, and when it does, you know bad things are gonna be a-coming.
However, the trade-off for such thick and delectable atmosphere is a hit to the pacing. Admittedly, this is not a story that goes anywhere fast. While I think there’s plenty to keep the reader entertained, especially when Margot meets other people in town like Tess and Eli, for the most part the plot development chugs in place as the narrative focuses on establishing the mystery and immersing you into the setting. There’s also a lot that doesn’t make sense—at least at first. Rest assured things come together in the end—mostly. There will be some loose ends, and for a long time, it just feels like you’re supposed to ignore all the questions and inconsistencies, which might be a bit too much to ask.
And now, time for what I struggled with, which was mainly Margot. I know she was written to be a little abrasive and belligerent, but I could only put up with her attitude for so long. After a while, that massive chip on her shoulder started getting on my nerves and I just wanted to slap her every time she got snappy or confrontational—which was pretty much all the time. Unfortunately, the fact that I listened to the audiobook did not help, since the narrator tended to overact and made Margot sound even more hysterical and annoying.
Bottom line, the world-building was fantastic, but atmosphere alone couldn’t carry this novel, and ultimately I thought the story and characters were lacking. My experience was also affected by an overdramatic narrator, but if you’re not listening to the audiobook, you’ll most likely not encounter that issue, though I can’t say I was feeling all that sympathetic towards the protagonist regardless. At the end of the day, Burn Our Bodies Down wasn’t a bad book and I thought its premise was interesting, but overall, I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as I’d hoped.