Krysten Ritter’s debut a somewhat predictable but fast-paced thriller

  • Kirkus Reviews
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 Insight and Books
‘Bonfire,’ Krysten Ritter

A young environmental lawyer returns to her small Indiana hometown to investigate pollution by a regional plastics giant, but settling old scores and healing old wounds weigh heavily on her mind in Krysten Ritter’s “Bonfire.”

Abby Williams left the aptly named Barrens, Ind., for Chicago as soon as she turned 18 and never looked back, trading the equivalent of a one-horse town that prizes football and rifles for a sleek apartment and a nameless parade of men she doesn’t have to love. Now an attorney with the Center for Environmental Advocacy Work, she’s headed back to the last place she ever wanted to go, but this time with a mission: take down Optimal Plastics, the corporate giant that’s allegedly polluting the town’s water supply. Along with an eager team of millennials, Abby returns to Barrens to find it both unchanged and almost unrecognizable: The high school girls who used to torment her have grown up and one is even the school’s vice principal, but the town’s allegiance to Optimal is still strong. In Abby’s day, there was a spate of unexplained illnesses, led by Abby’s former best friend, and later biggest foe, Kaycee Mitchell, who displayed bizarre signs akin to either mass hysteria or perhaps environmental poisoning. When Kaycee ran away after high school, the other girls confessed it was a hoax. Now Abby’s not so sure, as she digs deeper into Optimal’s deep ties to the town, some benign and some much more malignant, all while wrestling with her own, somewhat predictable, demons that Ritter (best known for her television role on Netflix’s “Jessica Jones”) tries admirably to spice up.

“Bonfire” is a fast-paced thriller that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but introduces a tough female lead who’s easy to root for.

(Ritter will sign copies of her book starting at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 at BookPeople. Vouchers include a copy of the book and are required to attend; $26. Information: bookpeople.com.)

An era of ‘fauxpowerment’

Jaclyn Friedman’s “Unscrewed” is a feminist perspective on sexual power and its uses and abuses in America.

Women’s sexuality expert Friedman (“What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety”) believes women are in the midst of an era of “fauxpowerment” whereby “bright, candy-colored” notions of female sexual liberation, equality and sexual power cloak the real reality of the “still mostly retrograde and misogynist status quo.” In clear, concise language, she argues that the current state of American culture suffers from a sexual revolution that remains unfinished and is in dire need of an overhaul while economic, governmental, and technological forces falsely promote the advancements in the sexual empowerment and equalization of women. Supporting this claim are numerous profiles of change-makers who, through their individual and collective efforts, have fostered a culture of assistance and acceptance. They include a host of grass-roots pioneers who have dedicated their lives to defusing misogyny and sexual oppression and to reshaping public perception. Friedman chronicles her discussions with reproductive justice activist Loretta Ross, her volunteer work with a sexual research study at a Toronto university, and her questioning of Facebook’s little-known policy on adult products and services. She also examines the arduous fight over abortion rights and profiles award-winning female-empowerment filmmakers. With a seasoned eye, Friedman scrutinizes the complex historical legacy of sexual dehumanization and the contemporary proliferation of the teenage hookup culture. All of these interviews and anecdotal material inform readers on the slowly changing attitudes toward American sexual culture for women, from a toxic environment built on humiliation, shame, and violence to one of equality and liberation. However, notes the author, there is a long road ahead. The text is lively, emboldening, and nonjudgmental, and Friedman provides tools and processes whereby readers can become involved in an equality movement aimed at “seizing your power from a system that doesn’t want you to have it.”

This book is a potent, convincing manifesto on how female sexual equality marches onward despite cultural roadblocks.

(Friedman will speak and sign copies of her book starting at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)

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