Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles! I refuse to believe that February is almost over…
I didn’t know that Ashley Woodfolk had come out with a new book until very recently, and I ended up picking it up more on a whim than anything. But Nothing Burns as Bright as You quickly became my favorite read of this month, and easily the best of Woodfolk’s work that I’ve read. Raw, visceral, and consistently powerful, Woodfolk’s prose is great, but her poetry is something else entirely.
Enjoy this week’s review!
Nothing Burns as Bright as You – Ashley Woodfolk
Written in verse, Nothing Burns follows two unnamed girls, best friends who slowly but surely realize that they’ve become something more. But when one’s actions begin to toe the line of their relationship, their love—and their lives—fall in jeopardy. The foundation that once sustained their relationship has begun to crumble, but whether it can be glued back together will be decided in the blink of an eye.
TW/CW: racism, homophobia (some religious homophobia), substance abuse, sexual harassment
I kind of love the feeling when a book you just picked up on a whim hits you harder than you ever could have anticipated. I just thought “oh, it’s Ashley Woodfolk, I liked her last book, what could go wrong,” and the next thing I know, I’m highlighting every other line on my Kindle. Nothing Burns as Bright as You is just that powerful, a poignant story of the complexities of a toxic relationship.
Woodfolk’s prose is already excellent, as evidenced in When You Were Everything and several of her short stories, but her poetry hits a note so resonant that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every line is nothing short of genius—clever and observant, but nothing short of raw and painful. Nothing Burns as Bright as You is a heart laid bare for all to see, unflinching in the complicated, nuanced realities it depicts.
It would be easy to romanticize the events of Nothing Burns as Bright as You, but Woodfolk knew exactly how to avoid it; it’s a story about falling so hard in love that you lose yourself, but it’s also about coming to terms with loving somebody who drags you through the mud, who breaks you down even when they promise to love you. Setting fire to a dumpster outside of a high school is the perfect set-up for a coming-of-age romance, but a coming-of-age romance this isn’t…and is. The emphasis should be on the coming-of-age part; it’s about learning to heal from somebody that you thought loved you, and grappling with the fact that love isn’t black and white, and like a fire, it can give you warmth, but also consume you to the point of no return.
Even when both of the protagonists went unnamed, their personalities and stories shone through in every page. Despite the fact that it made writing my summary here a little tricky, the character study is vibrant enough that you don’t need names to tell each character apart—their clashing personalities come through in every relentlessly beautiful line. It’s so important to tell more inclusive love stories, but the reality is that not everything is quite so neat and simple—sapphic love isn’t always sunshine and roses. We need our stories of queer Black girls falling in love, but we need our stories of queer Black girls growing from complicated, toxic relationships almost just as much.
All in all, a startlingly raw and beautiful story of the complexities of queer love and being with somebody to the point of danger. 4.5 stars!
Nothing Burns as Bright as You is a standalone, but Ashley Woodfolk is also the author of When You Were Everything and The Beauty That Remains, and has also contributed short stories to collections such as Blackout, A Phoenix Must First Burn, and several others.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
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