Burn Our Bodies Down

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Burn Our Bodies Down Book Poster Image
Teen uncovers fiery family secrets in page-turning thriller.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The storyline about the dangers of using pesticides on agricultural farms may encourage readers to learn more about what kind of chemicals are used to produce the food they and their families eat each day.

Positive Messages

The truth, no matter how painful, is less destructive than a secret kept hidden.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Margot has endured a lot in her young life. Her mother's mental instability means that her childhood has been filled with neglect, emotional abuse. But Margot is bold (sometimes reckless) and determined. Despite terrible secrets she's uncovered about her mother's family, she grows toward finding the identity she's long sought, to be "someone all my own." In some cases, she resorts to violence.


A family's murder by shotgun blasts is briefly but graphically described. Three people die in fires. Someone is hit over the head with a shovel, and a mass grave is discovered.


A character briefly mentions her attraction to other girls.


Lots of profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bulls--t," "goddamn," "Jesus").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character has a brief encounter with someone (possibly underage) drinking a beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Burn Our Bodies Down, by Rory Power (Wilder Girls), is a twisty, sometimes frightening thriller. As far as 17-year-old Margot Nielsen knows, she has no family other than her emotionally distant and abusive mother. A mother who refuses to answer any questions about Margot's father or her own family. The chance discovery of a picture and a phone number in an old Bible sends Margot to a small Nebraska town, where she uncovers her mother's terrifying past and the darkest of family secrets. Characters use quite a bit of profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bulls--t," "goddamn," "Jesus"). A family's murder is briefly but graphically described, three people die in fires, and a mass grave is discovered.

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What's the story?

BURN OUR BODIES DOWN is all about fire. The rundown apartment Margot Nielsen shares with her single mother always has a candle burning. They must, her mother tells her, keep a fire burning, as "fire is what saves you." Troubled and often neglectful of Margot, her mother is secretive about her past, refusing to answer any of Margot's questions about who her father is or where her mother's family lived. Going through a box of things her mother has pawned at a local shop, she finds a photo and a phone number in a childhood Bible belonging to her mother. When Margot calls the phone number, she reaches her grandmother and learns that she still lives in the small Nebraska town of Phalene, where her mother grew up. Not telling her mother she's leaving, Margot hitchhikes to Phalene, where she quickly learns that the Nielsen family is regarded by the townspeople and the police as nothing but trouble. Margot's own troubles begin within hours of arriving in town, when she helps pull the body of a dead girl from a fire on her grandmother's farm. A girl who looks exactly like her. And this isn't the first fire on her grandmother's farm. There was a fire years ago at the same time her mother's twin sister, Katherine, mysteriously disappeared. Secret after secret is revealed as Margot discovers another Bible, a mysterious set of X-rays with inverted hearts, and the reason "fire is what saves you."

Is it any good?

This page-turner has a never-saw-that-coming storyline filled with chilling twists and turns, genetics (both human and plant) run frighteningly amok, and an unexpected killer. While Burn Our Bodies Down can be read simply as a spine chiller of a thriller, Margot's story also offers a message for readers about finding their own identity: an identity all their own that's not dependent on who their parents are or where they come from.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the secrets that people keep in Burn Our Bodies Down. Do you think there are ever secrets best left hidden?

  • How do you like the mix of mystery, murder, science fiction, and environmental themes in Burn Our Bodies Down? Is it important to you and your family to know where the food you eat comes from and what kind of chemicals might have been used on the farms where it was grown?

  • What do you think of Margot's mother's instability? How does that add to the complexities of this thriller? What other books involving mental illness have you read?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrillers and mysteries

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