We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.
On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?
This book made me feel a lot. Mostly anger. But not at the book. Just at some of the similarities to what we’re seeing in the world right now.
Dani came illegally over the wall into the legal side of her country. She still grew up close to the border which is very poor. Her parents got her papers illegally and did everything they could to get her into the Medio School For Girls. In this school, the girls are prepared to be married off to prominent boys. Dani is the top in her class. She doesn’t want to be married, but she goes through it for her parents. Each boy marries two girls. One girl is supposed to help her husband with his business and be his partner. The other is to make the house pretty and to give him babies. Dani is chosen for Mateo, a boy who may become president. The girl chosen with her is Carmen, a girl Dani tried to be friends with, but who bullied her through school.
There is a resistance group, La Voz, that is trying to help the poor. They don’t like the government and want to find a way to overthrow it. They have spies everywhere and they blackmail Dani into helping them. They knew her papers were forged and she was about to be found out by a new detection system. A boy showed up her last day of school with new papers for her. But they came with a price. He shows up at her new home and starts giving her tasks. The more Dani does, the more she realizes that she sides more with La Voz than her new husband. Dani risks everything to continue helping them. Partly out of blackmail, but also because of her own feelings.
Dani quickly realizes that her training from school won’t help her with Mateo. He doesn’t want an equal. He wants wives who listen, do what they’re told, and obey him. I hated Mateo. Usually I can find a positive in a bad character, but there was nothing with him. I swear my blood pressure went up when I read the parts he was included in.
“I’ll thank you to watch your tone,” he said, his own face flushing now though his tone had gone colder still. “No one likes a mouthy woman.”
As I mentioned in the beginning, I found many similarities to what we’re seeing in the US right now. It’s not to the point of killing, but the way people past the southern border are being treated. The talk of a wall. Of how they are somehow lesser people because of where they were born. Again, blood pressure went up a lot while reading. I like books that make me feel something and this one definitely did.
“Who do you think is responsible for the militarization of the border?” he asked. “For the shoot-on-sight policy regarding border crossings?”
There is a lot of action, betrayal, and some f/f romance in this book. It’s very political. And the ending had a big twist with a cliffhanger. Warnings for misogyny, prejudice against the poor and people from across the border, kidnapping/abduction, and attacks/killing.
I gave this book 4 1/2 stars rounded up to 5 on Goodreads. Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for my copy for review. Quotes taken from an arc and may change before final publication. I cannot wait for book two!
Have you read this book yet? Is it on your TBR? Do you like politics in your YA books?