Firebirds

Angela's Series - A Journey through luscious romance and rejection

Romance - Contemporary
154 Pages
Reviewed on 08/20/2020
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    Book Review

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.

Jessica Barbosa

Firebirds by AJ Ryan revolves around Angela, a typical teen who loves cars, has big dreams of being a pilot, and is surrounded by best friends she can rely on. One day, she and her group of friends make a pact that will be the catalyst for a series of events that will cause Angela pain for years to come. Friendships are broken, trust is misplaced, and Angela experiences a lot of heartbreaks as she tries to keep herself afloat amid a sea of controversy. This is the story of a spunky, spirited, and brave girl as she navigates through life, love, friendship, and pain, one step at a time.

Firebirds is a first-person point of view, contemporary romance based on a true story. AJ Ryan’s coming-of-age narrative has taken my heart, shredded it into pieces, and put it back together again. This book is engrossing, relatable, and the moment I read through the first chapter, I fell for it - hook, line, and sinker. The protagonist’s perspective is honest and passionate. Her emotions are raw, encompassing, and very well-written. I listened to a few of the songs mentioned in the book as I read through her tale and the story left an even deeper impact on me as a result.

Angela is truly a unique, strong, and admirable character to have gone through what she did and to come out of all that hurt so much stronger than before. The mistakes Angela has made and the trials she has gone through, as a consequence of her mistakes, helped shape her into a wonderful, caring woman. Despite the abuse, bullying, and false accusations she went through, she still found it in her heart to mend broken friendships, forgive her tormentors, and find love again, even in the darkest of times. If I had been in her position, I’m not sure I would have had any sympathy left for the people who caused me pain, but Angela’s story has taught me that sometimes you need to leave the past behind and move forward so that someday you can find the happiness you never expected to feel again.

Lisa McCombs

In Firebirds by AJ Ryan, Angela has a full plate: school, two jobs, and flight lessons. Possibly too much for a teenager, but she has a plan and will not be deterred. Angela wants to be a pilot first and foremost when she’s not looking for the perfect Pontiac Thunderbird. She’s a fixer, a motorhead. Everyone knows to consult with her for engine repair or mechanical issues. When her passion for cars and planes runs head-on into Gene and his incredible white Thunderbird, her life takes a turn that could ruin any plans for her future. Irresistible and devilishly addictive, Gene could be the worst decision she might make, especially when his presence in her life divides her from friends, family, and life dreams.

Firebirds by AJ Ryan is a raw look at teenage promiscuity and fraught with poor decision-making that runs rampant among the younger generation. Teenagers are infamous for rebellious attitudes and reckless behavior. Author AJ Ryan illuminates this truth by presenting this head-shaking story of firsts: love, sex, rivalry, and teenage revelations. With persistent and consistent song references, Ryan’s memoir-type tale relates to readers of all (adult) ages. The idea of a girl knowing so much about cars is relevant to our diverse society. A strong theme of female strength is evident in even the weakest moments of the main character Angela’s journey to adulthood.

Michael Gardner

The highlight of Firebirds by A.J. Ryan is how neatly it transports you back to the 1980s. As a Gen X reader who was also a teen through the 1980s, the story was very nostalgic for me. Angela’s retrospective first-person narrative tells us about her life, her coming of age, boys, cars, high school dramas, and all to an 80s soundtrack that made me want to go and crank up the stereo. I particularly liked the moments where Angela reminds us the 1980s were a much more innocent time, without social media, smartphones, or online dating. If certain events in the book had happened today, such as Angela’s problems with Kelly, she could have simply resolved it with a text message. It makes you appreciate how many ‘sliding doors’ we pass through in life, regardless of in which decade we grew up.

Although Firebirds has a slow burn through the first half of the book, it picks up momentum through the second half, but once I’d reached the end I appreciated the authenticity in the storytelling. Life, after all, doesn’t follow the rules of a well-constructed plot. It’s a difficult book to pigeonhole. It’s a mix of YA, women’s fiction, biographical fiction/memoir, romance, and drama. While Firebirds is also a distinctly 1980s book, I think younger readers will still be able to relate to the story as it deals with issues we have all faced through the difficult transition from being a teenager to adulthood, especially in matters of relationships and love.

Edith Wairimu

AJ Ryan’s contemporary romance novel, Firebirds: Angela's Series, follows a passionate teenage love story. Angela lived with her parents in a charming small town in southern Oregon. She had dated before Gene, but something about him ignited her passion more than anyone else ever had. Angela and Gene had met after a dance party and, soon after, they were inseparable. Their relationship was, however, met with vehement opposition from Gene’s ex-girlfriend, Kelly, and her friends. Every day, Angela was mercilessly bullied but nothing deterred her from getting together with Gene. Eventually, the bullying was too much to handle and she left town and moved in with her older sister. Years later, she would uncover the truth following her first meeting with Gene and make peace with her tormentors.

I loved how Angela’s love for music and cars remains constant throughout the novel. The words of the songs and the cars described become powerful symbols throughout. Angela would always remember Gene with his white ‘76 Pontiac Firebird that became a place of escape for them, away from the world and their cruel attackers. Songs from different albums throughout the 1980s and beyond would speak to and encourage her. The cruelty inflicted on Angela at school and the suffering she faced every day reveal the severity of bullying and the impact it has on the victim. Firebirds by AJ Ryan is a powerful romance story that is fuelled by resilience. It is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Ultimately, it inspires hope and will encourage any reader who is facing rejection or bullying.