Up in Flames

Up in Flames
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Release Date
October 03, 2023
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At eighteen, Ruby Ortega is an unapologetic flirt who balances her natural aptitude for economics with her skill in partying hard. But she couldn't care less about those messy college boys—it's her intense, brooding neighbor Ashton who she wants, and even followed to school. Even the fact that he has a girlfriend doesn't deter her . . . whatever Ruby wants, she eventually gets.

Her ruthless determination is tested when wildfires devastate her California hometown, destroying her parents' business and causing an unspeakable tragedy that shatters her to her core. Suddenly, Ruby is the head of the family and responsible for its survival, with no income or experience to rely on. Rebuilding seems hopeless, but with the help of unexpected allies—including a beguiling, dark-eyed boy who seems to understand her better than anyone—Ruby has to try. When she discovers that the fires also displaced many undocumented people in her town, it becomes even more imperative to help. And if she has to make hard choices along the way, can anyone blame her?

In her powerful debut novel, Mexican American author Hailey Alcaraz chronicles a riveting portrait of transformation, resilience, and love with an unlikely heroine who, when faced with unforeseen disaster, surprises everyone, especially herself.

Editor review

1 review
I'll think of it tomorrow, in Buena Valley
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At her sister Elena's quinceañera, Ruby Ortega has just one goal; to reconnect with Ashton, the neighbor boy she has always had a crush on. She has been waiting for him to return from college so she can use her wiles on him, but is devastated to find out that he has brought home his girlfriend, Millie, to their idyllic hometown on Buena Valley, California. It's too late to change the college she is going to because of Ashton, so the two are soon both at the University of Arizona, where they see each other from time to time. Ruby is also being pursued by Remy Bustillos, who works for her father's property management company, which include the bed and breakfast that the family runs. He visits her in Arizona, and when wildfires strike near Buena Valley, Remy is the one Ruby calls to take her home. Ashton has already dropped out of college, and has taken a job fighting the fires, so Millie returns as well. The Ortega property has suffered some damage, but worst of all, Ruby's mother has died. Her father is gravely injured, so she must take over the running of the business herself. She still holds a torch for Ashton, and suffers Remy's attention, but also starts dating Frank, whose father runs a construction company that is helping repair the damage in Buena Valley. Remy is arrested for fighting with the police when ICE come to arrest undocumented citizens in the midst of the fire, but Ruby still finds him interesting, even though she is involved with Frank. When Frank turns out to be a horrible racist, and his father's company is found to be abusing immigrant workers, Ruby dumps him. Will she be able to reconnect with either Ashton or Remy as she labors to keep the family business running?

Good Points
It wasn't until I read other reviews of this that I realized it is a loose retelling of Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, but once you know this, it's so easy to see the parallels. Ruby is Scarlett, and even starts the book in a green dress! I'm not sure how many teens will be aware of this 1936 book, or even the 1939 movie, and the story certainly holds up without this knowledge. Even the cover is a shout out to the movie!

Ruby is a girl who has it all; good looks, supportive family, and significant financial resources. Still, she's not happy when she can't have Ashton, even though suitors are not in short supply. She hasn't really worked very much, but does step up to help out her family when they need it. Like many young adults, she is essentially self centered, but can be brought out of herself in an emergency.

There's a fair amount of Latine culture in this one, and Remy's involvement with the immgrant worker community is interesting. The treatment of undocumented laborers is something that is very important but not much discussed. This reminded me a bit of Marqardt's Dream Things True due to the inclusion of this topic.

While middle grade authors love to retell Burnett's The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, young adult writers go a little further afield. There's Flinn's Love, Jacaranda, a retelling of Webster's Daddy Long-Legs, Stohl and de la Cruz's Jo & Laurie, an adaptation of Little Women, and Watson's reimaging of Austen's Emma, Off Script. Teen readers who really like classics, or want to ease into them with books that embrace the general concept, will also love Ruby's dramatic story.
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