Saturday, June 8, 2019

Review: The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Genre: Young adult mystery
Pages: 493
Publication date: August 2017
Content warning: Arson, murder, suicide, war, mental and physical illness, prison, injury, death penalty
Available at: Amazon | Book Depository
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Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t believe that her mother killed herself three years ago. And since her father is about to be executed for his crimes, Molly is convinced that her mother will return to her soon. Finally, the hole in her heart will stop hurting.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with serious girl problems and the most embarrassing seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly and Pepper are tasked with finding Ava’s murderer, they realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

Stephanie Oakes’s first book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is one of my favorite fictional cult books. I’ve read a lot of cult novels, so that’s not faint praise. It’s a seriously good book. That’s why I had high hopes for The Arsonist.

After I finished it, I was conflicted!

The Arsonist follows the lives of three teenagers. One of them became a mystery, and the other two are trying to find out what happened to her. Ava Dreyman was an East German girl whose protest against the Berlin Wall led to her murder—supposedly. Decades later, two American teens, Molly and Pepper, find a copy of Ava’s diary and think parts of it sound fishy. Is Ava really dead, or is someone trying to keep her hidden? If she was murdered, can they track down her killer?

This book kept me awake for most of the night. I read the majority of it in one sitting, and it’s nearly 500 pages! The characters are unique and have led unusual lives. Nobody knows if Ava is alive or what her connection is to Molly’s family. Molly’s mother reportedly committed suicide, but Molly thinks that isn’t true. Her father is on death row for arson and murder. Pepper is a Kuwaiti immigrant who has epilepsy and goes to school with Molly. Something connects these three teens. I couldn’t put the book down until I figured out how their lives overlap.

This book is full of mysteries, and they’re all compelling. I wanted to know if Ava’s diary is true or if it’s just a shield to protect her real identity. I wanted to know if Molly’s mom is alive and why her father burnt a house. There were just so many things I wanted to know!

I enjoyed all three point-of-view characters, but Pepper is my favorite. This book tackles many heavy issues. It could have been depressing, but Pepper doesn’t allow that to happen. I love his sense of humor and his nerdy friends. I also love his not-very-bright pug dog. For a mystery involving arson and murder, this novel is very funny. I appreciate that. The humor keeps all of the issues from becoming overwhelming.

The worst crime you can do to yourself is to forget why you chose the path you're on, but keep walking down it anyway.The Arsonist

Here’s why I’m conflicted. I adore the characters and the mystery, but they both kind of let me down in the end.

Molly spends the whole beginning of the book telling the reader how weird and impulsive she is. That’s fine, but I expected her to do something weird and impulsive to solve the mystery. She doesn’t. She makes a few dangerous decisions, but they’re all logical. Pepper’s personality is weirder than Molly’s. I guess her “I’m so weird” chapters show that she’s determined enough to solve a dangerous mystery? Still, I wanted her to do something weird! You can’t promise weirdness and then not give me any.

The mystery also let me down at the end because there isn’t really a point to it. It could have been unraveled with one conversation. The adults in Molly’s life could have behaved like adults and talked to her. If she didn’t believe what they were saying, then okay. Maybe she’d believe them someday. I didn’t see the point of sending two teenagers gallivanting around Germany on their own. Molly steals a cell phone, Pepper breaks into an apartment, and they both almost get killed. The “bad guys” give long “bad guy” speeches to force Molly to keep solving the mystery when she gets discouraged. It’s all dangerous and elaborate. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just tell the kids the truth? Use your words!

This is why I’m conflicted. I loved the experience of reading this book. It has a twisty plot and quirky characters. But, when I got to the end, I was like, “Oh. That’s it?”

If you like mysteries, I recommend giving this one a try because I had fun reading it. I’ll definitely read whatever Stephanie Oakes writes next. I like her characters and the strange situations they find themselves in. Still, I wish the ending was more satisfying!


  1. Wow, this sounds like a heavy book for young adults! I can see why you didn't put it down and why it kept you awake. Too bad for the letdown at the end.

  2. Oh I definitely want to read this one but ahhh endings that let you down when the beginnings are so good ?? Super frustrating. I always end up conflicted with those types of books too. 🙈

  3. 500 pages in nearly one sitting! The only books I've really gotten into like that big are Donna Tartt novels or The Clan of the Cave Bear series.

  4. I love that photo so much! I think I'll pass. I have read too many books that at the end could have been solved by going to the library on the first page, or like you said with this story... asking a family member. I guess I'm weird because even if I enjoyed reading the book, if the journey was for no good reason then it ruins the whole book for me. Same with open ended stories if they had complicated plot. I get into the "I can't wait to see how all of this gets connected in the end" zone, and when nothing gets connected I think what was the point. Ha ha. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 👍✨

  5. The cover is trippy! I hate feeling conflicted after reading a book, haha. I love when I feel invested in the outcome, so it's always a let down when I feel disappointed. I get really upset when it ends with zero resolution.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

  6. I hate it when I'm enjoying a book and it fizzles out in a disappointing way.

  7. Oh no, I'm sorry the end wasn't all that exciting but I'm glad the lead up was enjoyable! I still need to read her Minnow Bly book.


  8. I own this one already so I know I'll pick it up eventually. I have to admit your review has me even more curious now.

  9. Sad that the ending short-changed the rest of the book. I hate when that happens.

  10. That's kind of a bummer, but it's impressive that the story was good enough that you read most of it in one setting. That definitely makes me want to read it!

  11. I have this on my TBR. I have seen a lot of really positive reviews for it. I am glad you mentioned that it was kept from being too depressing. I am ok with heavy subject matter, but I need it tempered, so it sounds like Oakes did a great job keeping this from being weighed down by the subject matter.

  12. I have read a couple of books that were hard to put down but left me wanting more. This sounds like it is worth picking up if only for the fact that you read most of the book in a single sitting.

  13. Ugh see I am torn, because on one hand, I really enjoyed Minnow Bly and this one sounds awesome, but do I really want to read 500 pages only to have the end be a letdown? No, no I do not. BUT if it kept you interested until then... yeah conflicted hahah. LOVE your picture, too!

  14. Oh, I think that ending would REALLY frustrate me. It's a shame because the rest of the book sounds fantastic.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  15. This is definitely an unusual premise and it piques my interest, but don't you have when a whole book could have been resolved with one conversation?

  16. I'm impressed that you the majority of such a long novel in one sitting! It sounds like there's a lot to love about this book, but I think that ending would be frustrating for me.

  17. That cover is amazing! I do love it. A shame the ending wasn't what you wanted.

  18. What a neat cover!! Bummer that this was a bit of a let down. Sounds like one I'll have to snag from my library! :)