Reviewed by Gee on Goodreads
“We’re fire on fire. And I think we’ll keep burning forever.”When we were fire on fire, Elen Chase
If “When We Were Sea and Stars” was a story about first chances and taking risks, “When We Were Fire on Fire” is the perfect sequel, in which second chances and self-forgiveness are explored. Five years after the love of his life broke his heart, Fra believes he’s got everything under control. He’s a successful worker for an important informatics service, he has friends like Betta and Kim to keep him afloat, and he has goals to look forward to. But, underneath it all, Fra feels very lonely, and his façade starts crumbling down when Eric, the man he’s never been able to forget, returns to his city and to his life as the director of the company’s new project.
“There are things about you that keep taking my breath away, and I have no clue how you can change so much, day after day, and stay always true to your heart all the same.”When we were fire on fire, Elen Chase
Although this book is marketed as a second-chance M/M Italian romance, I need you to know that it’s so much more than that. It’s about reconnecting with others, and letting old wounds heal. It’s about looking at the darker parts of yourself, the ones that frighten you the most, and seeing them without averting your eyes. It’s about seeking forgiveness, and realising that that requires understanding and an active choice to make things work. It’s about opening up. It’s about all kinds of love, instead of only romance. It’s about what makes us human, what makes us hurt, and what helps us heal. There really are no words to express how much I loved this story, and I wish Goodreads would work on a new rating that’s along the lines of “Five Stars Are Nice, But I Would Actually Give This Book An Entire Galaxy”.
“Just in case you need to hear this… It’s okay to feel things. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or need a break. You don’t have to, but if you ever want to talk…, you can come to me.”When we were fire on fire, Elen Chase
Fra and Eric have been apart for years, after something happened that shook their relationship to the core and lead to its end. But they haven’t been out of each other’s mind. As much as they wish they could move on, they haven’t been able to forget how truly alive they felt in the other’s arms, and how much stronger their relationship made them. Even though I sometimes roll my eyes at this type of trope, for many times it’s a poor excuse to have two people munching on self-pity and stagnancy until whatever happens that brings them together again, it’s so well done here, and it makes so much sense for Fra and Eric. Each of them carries around heavy emotional burdens of his own, and although they come from very different places, they’re similar enough that they only ever felt understood by the other. In this sense, the book does an excellent job of depicting the way trauma survivors and abused people can be supported by many, but only fully understood by someone who has gone through something similar, and really know how it’s like. That’s not to say that they were instantly back to being in love, or that being in love solved their problems magically; if anything, it brought them to the light. Again, this was an incredible thing to see in a book. As James poignantly puts it: “When I fell in love with Rob, I thought out relationship would magically heal me…and it didn’t”. I take my hat off, seriously, because Elen never falls into toxic tropes and easy shortcuts in her romances.
“I’m so tired of telling myself that I have forgotten you, or that I want you out of my life.”When we were fire on fire, Elen Chase
Neither does she shy away from writing about mental health issues, and getting them right. In this book, anxiety issues and depression are depicted and discussed. As someone who has both, I won’t ever be able to put into words just how well done it was, how much Fra and Eric’s experiences resonated with me, and how much the support and understanding shown by different characters at different points meant.Betta, Rob, James, Eric, and Kim went any and every necessary length to let Fra know they were there for him, and although sometimes his ghosts and demons wouldn’t allow him to remember he wasn’t alone, they didn’t abandon him or get tired of him. That, plus how accurate the representation of Fra’s struggles with his mental health was, quickly turned “When We Were Fire on Fire” into one of the best books I’ve read this years, and one of the stories that makes me feel seen and understood the most.
“A lot of families are just messed up. Something many people don’t understand is that being able to procreate doesn’t necessarily imply you are able to raise a child.”When we were fire on fire, Elen Chase
There’s also discussion of what family means, and whether blood should always be thicker. Again, Elen avoided overused tropes, choosing instead to focus on how dysfunctionality takes many forms; how abuse isn’t always evident or physical; how gaslighting can lethally wound a person; and the way most people are, despite how difficult it may be to believe in the light of the harm their actions and choices cause, genuinely trying to do what they think is right or best. This quote was one that made me tear up, because it’s just so true, and so accurately expressed. You will find found family within these pages, though, that shows how, at the end of the day, unconditional and selfless love doesn’t require nor come with shared blood.
“I like to think that we’re the ones choosing our destiny, not some pawns in the hands of fate.”When we were fire on fire, Elen Chase
I could talk about the several issues that were excellently addressed by Elen forever, but the review is supposed to be about the book itself. So… Can I please mention that Fra and Eric are an absolute OTP, and that I will never not sob when thinking about just how beautiful and imperfect and wholesome their story is? The second they walked into my life, I knew they were going to be characters I would root for, and I have officially adopted them now. There’s something really special about each of them, about the way they never stop learning and growing. Whenever I think about brave, bold Eric, who’s hiding secrets far darker than his dazzling smile and rich dark eyes let on, I want to give him a super duper hug. And then I remember that sweet, vulnerable Fra is there to do it for me, and I’m so full of love for them, my heart could burst. Their dynamic evolves throughout the book, as they come to terms with their pasts and start understanding each other’s, and this coming-of-age of sorts they undergo is just perfect.
“Virginity is a dumb social construct. Sex doesn’t define us. So what if you’ve never done it? Maybe you weren’t ready, maybe you didn’t find the right person, maybe you simply didn’t want to, but what’s wrong with that?”When we were fire on fire, Elen Chase
Seriously: “When We Were Fire on Fire” is a book you don’t want to miss. As soon as I started reading, I knew it was absolute reread material, as well as a book I’m going to NEED to have a physical copy of. Now that I’ve finished the story, I miss them so, so much! I can’t wait to read the third installment, which will tell Kim’s story (and I’m told it has ace rep!? I’M CRYING IN HAPPINESS). Please please please please please read Elen’s books. Please. PLEASE. I need more people to read them so that I can share all these feels with someone!
CWs: Anxiety, Body shaming (mentioned, challenged) Child neglect, Depression, Disordered eating, Emotional abuse, Explicit sexual content, Guilt, Intrusive thoughts, Homophobia, Hospitalisation, Loss of a parent, Mental Illness, Panic attacks, Suicide (mentioned), Trauma.