Review: From Dust a Flame - Rebecca Podos
Genre: Contemporary-fantasy, Young Adult
Published: Balzer & Bray, March 2022
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
“People come and go in our lives. They leave impressions on us, like letters in dust. Then she bends over and blows on the sugar, scattering the grains across the tabletop onto the floor. Inpermanent things can still change us forever.”
Rebecca Podos’ writing could go either way for me. Where Like Water still stands among my favourite YA-contemporary novels, The Mystery of Hollow Places did absolutely nothing for me. Her latest release was a wonderfully positive surprise, that combined what I loved in Like Water with what I wanted from The Mystery of Hollow Places.
From Dust a Flame is a Jewish-inspired contemporary-fantasy with themes of family, self-discovery and retracing your (cultural and familial) roots at its core. We follow 17-year old Hannah and her adoptive brother Gabe, who’ve never had a place to truly call home. Every year-or-so their free-spirited mum uproots the family to move cross country; no trails left behind, no extended family to inform, and no explanations provided. That silence is forcefully broken when Hannah falls victim to a curse that mutates her body in impossible ways overnight. Their search for answers leads Gabe and Hannah down the path of her Jewish ancestry, along myths, legends and the tragic history that their family has carried for generations.
From Dust a Flame does a great job of balancing all the elements it introduces to create a story that offers plenty of (fantastical) plot and action, but sacrifices nothing on character development along the way. There’s a lot to love here, with its representation of Jewish culture being front and centre in a way I haven’t seen done in YA before. Hannah’s journey of discovering and claiming a culture and history that she hasn’t grown up with, but has nonetheless shaped her life in many ways, is wonderfully done. There’s discussion on generational trauma, religion vs. culture and balancing your own desires with cultural- and parental expectations.
In addition we have LGBTQ representation (which is wonderful, as it is in all Podos’ work), discussion on bodily autonomy, perfectionism, (academic) pressure and much more. Combine all that with the fantastic sibling-relationship dynamic between Gabe and Hannah, and a good helping of supportive friendship and non-cringy budding romance along the way, and you have an absolute winner of a novel.