Up In Flames
Author: Hailey Alcaraz
Published: October 3, 2023 by Viking
Summary: Gorgeous, wealthy, and entitled, Ruby has just one single worry in her life—scheming to get the boy next door to finally realize they’re meant to be together. But when the California wildfires cause her privileged world to go up in flames, Ruby must struggle to find the grit and compassion to help her family and those less fortunate to rise from the ashes.
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.
Review: This book reminds us all that we are imperfect, and we won’t always make the right choices. Ruby’s story is set in a backdrop of the California wildfires. The book includes richly realized themes, and I particularly appreciated the ways in which Author Hailey Alcaraz interrogated the intersections of race and class. I was invested in Ruby’s story and rooting for her from the beginning to end. She is certainly flawed (as we all are), and she felt very real to me. I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it. (The audiobook is excellent!)
Tools for Navigation: Teachers might have students map some of the many themes of this book, considering how they are integrated within the text and the lessons they teach readers.
- How would you describe Ruby? What qualities does she have that are positive? What qualities might she work on? What lessons does she learn?
- How does the setting shape the story? How might the text be different if the setting was different?
- How are Ashton, Remy, and Charlie different? How does Ruby’s relationship with each help us understand her more?
Flagged Spreads/Passages: She understood that some things required more than sheer willpower. Some things—the important things, the hard things, the things that defined you as a person—required patience and trust and listening, too (p. 370, Advanced Reader Copy, and the quote may change).
Read This If You Love: Realistic Fiction, Romance, Social Justice Stories
**Thank you to Aubrey at Penguin Young Readers for providing a copy for an honest review**