The Incendiaries // R.O. Kwon

When my copy of The Incendiaries arrived in the mail, I almost cried.  I’ve been looking forward to reading this one for months, and I was thrilled to finally have a copy in my hands!  The Incendiaries wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, but it definitely surpassed my high expectations.


From the jacket:

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at an elite American university.  Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death.  Will is a misfit scholarship boy transferring in from Bible college, waiting tables to get by.  What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Haunted by her loss, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group- a secretive cult tied to North Korea- founded by a charismatic former student with an enigmatic past involving Phoebe’s Korean American family.  Will struggles to confront the obsession consuming the one he loves, and the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape.  When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears.  Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.


At its heart, The Incendiaries is a story about loss: loss of faith, of family, of love, and what that means for different people.  For Will, who has already lost his faith and family, it means tracking down the woman he loves and saving her from the life she’s chosen to lead.  But for Phoebe, who blames herself for her mother’s sudden death, it means running away from love and from faith, and turning to something horrible in return.


“Faces lit up if I walked into a room, the liking a light I could refract, giving it back.  Phoebe, oh, I love that girl, people said, but it’s possible they all just loved the reflected selves.”

-R.O. Kwon, The Incendiaries


The Incendiaries comes at an all-too-perfect time, discussing racial and religious prejudice, terrorism and extremism.  It’s a topical novel that reflects brilliantly on the current global and political climate while weaving together the lives of two very different people.  It’s incredibly slow-paced, and it personally took me two weeks to get through its measly two-hundred pages, but it packs a punch and it’s certainly not a book you’ll forget any time soon.

Read if you liked: (1) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid for its glittering yet abrupt, abbreviated prose on a timely topic; (2) The Mothers by Brit Bennett for its heartfelt story about a young woman losing her mother and struggling with her role in it; (3) The Girls by Emma Cline for its powerful, cult-centered tale about adolescence and extremism.

Thank you to Riverhead Books for my copy of The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon.  All thoughts are my own.

Find this book on Goodreads.

Published by

Hannah and Her Books

Book person.

8 thoughts on “The Incendiaries // R.O. Kwon”

    1. Uh oh! I’d say it’s most similar to EXIT WEST, so I’m not sure you’ll enjoy it if you didn’t like that one, but then again my interpretation could be entirely different than yours. Would love to hear your thoughts if you decide to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

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