Review: Where There’s Smoke by E. B. Vickers

Where There's Smoke by E. B. Vickers cover shows the title words blended into orange and red flame-like shapes.

Where There’s Smoke
E. B. Vickers
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Published December 12, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Where There’s Smoke

In this fast-paced thriller, eighteen-year-old Calli finds herself alone after the loss of her father—until a bruised and broken girl shows up on her property, forcing her to face the present, rethink her future, and unearth the skeletons of her own past.

Life has never been easy in the small desert town of Harmony, but even on the day Calli Christopher buries her father, she knows she is surrounded by people who care about her. But after the funeral, when everyone has finally gone home, Calli discovers a girl on her property. A girl who’s dirty and bruised and unable to speak. And petrified.

Calli keeps the girl secret—well, almost secret. She calls her Ash and begins to nurture her back to health. But word spreads in a small town, and soon a detective comes around asking questions about a missing girl from another town. But these only raise more questions–about Ash and about the people Calli knows well. Still, she must ask: is Ash in danger…or is she the danger?

Where There's Smoke on Goodreads

My Review

I love the way the author has chosen to tell this story. It’s got prose chapters from Calli’s perspective, and some short chapters or scenes in poetry in between them. The poems tell several other characters’ perspectives, and they’re a little bit veiled, really anchored in the context of what Calli learns in the scenes from her point of view.

It’s hard to talk about some of my feelings about this book without spoilers, but I’m going to do my best.

One of the things that made a lot of sense but sometimes frustrated me as a reader is the way that Calli waffled back and forth in her theories about what had happened to Ash. Sometimes, minute to minute, she’s convinced this person is totally guilty of harming Ash, and the next minute, she’s certain they’re innocent, and it must be someone else. It makes sense because new things keep happening, and she’s never sure who’s telling her the truth.

I did see some of the reveals in the book coming, but I think they were ones that maybe you were supposed to figure out ahead of time. There were definitely plenty of things I didn’t expect and some things that made me look back at earlier scenes with new eyes.

On the whole, I think the author did an amazing job creating a suspenseful story and including commentary on faith and faith communities in a neutral way that allows readers to draw their own conclusions about the characters separately from religion.

Where There's Smoke on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

I think the major characters are white? Several characters are people who fled from a local cult.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Calli references a past dating relationship with a boy. She also wonders if she’s falling in love with another boy.

Spiritual Content
Calli’s dad used to be the Bishop of her local church. Now, her dad’s cousin serves as Bishop. Calli still maintains her faith, and she references some Bible verses in times of need or when she faces tough decisions. Not far from Calli’s hometown is a small, very closed cult. There are rumors of children forced into marriage with much older men and girls who disappear, possibly murdered. Several characters have escaped from this group.

Violent Content
References to domestic violence and sexual assault. (Nothing graphically described or shown on scene.)

Drug Content
Calli finds empty beer bottles in a cabin that should be empty. References to adults drinking alcohol. Calli’s dad preached against drinking any alcohol at all.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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