Thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for an early review copy of Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt, which will publish June 5, 2018. All thoughts are my own.
From the publisher:
In the 1920s, Zoya Andropova, a young refugee from the Soviet Union, finds herself in the alien landscape of an elite all-girls New Jersey boarding school. Having lost her family, her home, and her sense of purpose, Zoya struggles to belong, a task made more difficult by the malice her peers heap on scholarship students and her new country’s paranoia about Russian spies. When she meets the visiting writer and fellow Russian émigré Leo Orlov- whose books Zoya has privately obsessed over for years- her luck seems to have taken a turn for the better. But she soon discovers that Leo is not the solution to her loneliness: he’s committed to his art and bound by the sinister orchestrations of his brilliant wife, Vera.
As the reader unravels the mystery of Zoya, Lev, and Vera’s fate, Zoya is faced with mounting pressure to figure out who she is and what kind of life she wants to build. Grappling with class distinctions, national allegiance, and ethical fidelity- not to mention the powerful magnetism of sex- Invitation to a Bonfire investigates how one’s identity is formed, irrevocably, through a series of momentary decisions, including how to survive, who to love, and whether to pay the complicated price of happiness.
Invitation to a Bonfire is one of those books where the summary is entirely misleading. Reading it, I thought I was in for a immigrant’s story, or a boarding school book, or even a crazy sexy romance/survival book. Nope. Sure, the book has elements of all of the above, but it’s mediocre compared to the way it’s described. The first half is unnecessarily slow, and it was hard for me to distinguish between the voices. Invitation to a Bonfire is told in first person from Zoya and Lev’s points-of-view, but they are both written with the same language and style so it was difficult at first to remember who was narrating. It eventually became easier to decipher. Zoya’s POV is told through her diary entries, and Lev’s is told through letters he wrote to his wife, Vera. Vera herself never narrates, though various newspaper clippings and testimonies reflect on her character. It was interesting for the book to be told in a diary-like format, because that’s not common in “adult” fiction, so I appreciated that, but it also made for a lot of “telling” not “showing,” which I think took away from the story.
I don’t mean to rant, but bearing this in mind, I think Adrienne Celt’s Invitation to a Bonfire is truly one of those love-it-or-hate-it books. I loved the writing style, it was lyrical and endearing, but I didn’t care too much for the story itself or its execution. When I finished it, I couldn’t help but feel it was missing something. The ending was underwhelming and left me feeling “meh.” I can say that this book just wasn’t for me, but if you like love triangles or historical thrillers, give Invitation to a Bonfire a try.