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Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite
In Firebirds by AJ Ryan, one summer in the 1980s, in Oregon, a group of friends decides this is the perfect time to transition from high school girls to women. Angela and her friends constantly discuss their impending entrance into the world of serious relationships while listening to their favorite 80's music. For most of the girls, the relationships they experience do not live up to the dreams they once held. Angela has her fair share of boyfriends, but it is not until she meets the charismatic and wild Gene that she truly feels alive. They share a love of fast cars and risky situations. But Gene seems to be already spoken for. His girlfriend just happens to be Angela's friend, Kelly. When Kelly discovers Gene and Angela's relationship, the entire school seems intent on destroying Angela's reputation and happiness. Even though Angela moves away from Oregon, memories of Gene and the stigma of their love affair still linger. It will take 30 years until the truth is finally revealed, leaving many lives and relationships shattered and some unfinished business that Angela must face.
The concept of Firebirds by AJ Ryan is far more than a romantic coming of age story. This compelling and realistic storyline covers the brutal consequences of bullying and peer pressure. The characters are created with much consideration and the dialogue is some of the best I have ever read. The situations the characters find themselves in are so relatable especially if you grew up in the 1980s. I loved the music references, lyrics, and antics in muscle cars. The behavior of the characters mirrored teenagers growing up and trying to find their voice in the world to perfection. The topics weaved throughout this amazing plot were powerful and quite emotional, such as suicide, divorce, first love, toxic love, jealousy, and heartbreak. Most noteworthy is the way the subject of bullying was tackled with such sensitivity. I could feel Angela's absolute agony and isolation at the hands of her peers. The author also, very eloquently, invites us to ponder the 'what if?' question regarding the choices we all make. Each choice has consequences and leads us down particular paths in life. A highly recommended book.