Growing Up in Flames

Zach Jones

Growing Up in Flames
Text Publishing Co
1 March 2022

Growing Up in Flames

Zach Jones

This contemporary YA novel is perfect for fans of Mark Smith and Vikki Wakefield, and tackles grief, belonging and mental illness.   

I’ve heard of Noah the way you hear about car accidents. A series of whispers, theories and rumours…   

Kenna’s mother Ava was killed in a bushfire not long ago. Now Kenna’s living with her uncle and his young family in the small town where Ava grew up, and she feels like an intruder.   

Noah’s mother has a mental illness that makes him both carer and jailer-constantly watchful, keeping things on an even keel.   

One night Kenna sees the general store on fire, and a boy standing watching as it burns. It takes her a while to notice he’s holding a petrol can, but then things move fast. She’s tackled him and run off with his bag before she even knows what’s happened.   

The bag belongs to Noah, and he really wants it back. Kenna wants something too. To make someone else burn the way her mum did. And there’s something she doesn’t know- how Noah can help her find out the truth about her family.


Kenna’s mother Ava died in a bushfire and she now lives with her uncle and aunt in her mum’s hometown, Kimba. She is trying to understand why her mum left 20 years before and never came back.

Noah’s father abandoned them many years before and he has looked after his mentally ill mother ever since. Kenna catches him burning down his old family store and takes his backpack, punishing him for his crime by creating a fake profile of him online that will invite an onslaught of trolls.

Twenty years in the past, James escapes from his abusive father and bed-ridden mother to an abandoned cottage. Like one of the wild birds he captures and cages, he convinces Ava to come with him and tries to hold her there. But when they play a trick on Ava’s childhood friend, Alex, their tenuous world comes crashing down.

Debut author Zach Jones gives voice to each of these four characters in their respective time periods through a variety of epistolary methods including a diary, text messages, Instagram threads and first-person narration.

This searing, atmospheric story of lives scarred by fire explores several themes including intergenerational trauma, child abuse, sexual assault, violence and revenge. Fire is a constant that pulls readers in with vivid descriptions of the smell, flames, and ash, and never really lets you go until the shocking conclusion. Anger, guilt, shame and trauma all reverberate in this rewarding read that will not disappoint. Suitable for older readers ages 14+.

Angela Crocombe is a senior buyer at Readings

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