Parasite meets Such a Fun Age in a scorching debut that is as heartbreaking as it is thrilling, examining the intersection of race, class, and female friendship, and the devastating consequences of everyday actions.
After her best friend's mysterious death, Elizabeth Smith’s picture-perfect life in the Memphis suburbs has spiraled out of control—so much so that she hires a personal assistant to keep her on track. Composed and elegant, Brianna is exactly who she needs and slides so neatly into Elizabeth’s life, almost like she belonged there from the start. Soon, the assistant Elizabeth hired to distract her from her obsession with her friend's death is the same person working with her to uncover the truth behind it.
Because Brianna has questions too.
She wants to know why the police killed her young Black son. Why someone in Elizabeth’s neighborhood called the cops on him that day. Who took that first step that stole her child away from her. And the only way she’s ever going to be able to find out is to entwine herself deep into Elizabeth’s life, where the answers to her questions lie. As the two women hurtle towards an electrifying final showdown, and the lines between employer and friend blur, it becomes clear that neither of them is what they first appear.
About the Author
Sara Koffi is a writer and editor from Memphis, Tennessee, with a B.A. in English from Whittier College. As a writer, she strives to explore the nuances of "unlikable female characters" and humanize Black women by giving them space on the page to breathe. While We Were Burning is her debut novel.
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“Fast paced and thrilling, While We Were Burning is also heartbreaking in its portrayal of a grieving mother forced to confront both the person who caused her son’s death and the systemic injustice that led to it. I was riveted the whole way through.” —Ana Reyes, author of The House in the Pines
“While We Were Burning is the fresh take on the domestic thriller we need right now, a provocative observation of racism and classism embedded within a searing, fast-paced revenge story. By placing a heartbreakingly familiar tragedy at the emotional center of the book, Koffi deftly blurs the lines between hero and villain, not only surprising the reader with every twist but challenging them with complicated moral questions. This is more than a riveting suspense about two women who form a tenuous friendship—it’s a page-turner with serious things to say about who gets to be a victim and what justice looks like.” —Ashley Winstead, author of In My Dreams I Hold a Knife
"A masterful accounting of the weight of things unspoken. While We Were Burning rams headlong into issues of class, privilege, and race with a cast of characters deeply flawed and richly complex. This is a story at once poignant, propulsive, and powerful. Sara Koffi has delivered a remarkable debut." —David Joy, author of Those We Thought We Knew
“A riveting page-turner…Koffi's fresh, bold, and sharp prose sweeps you right into the murky gray spaces and wide spectrum of conflicting human emotion filled with messy characters. This is the type of contemporary fiction I crave—raw, original, and unapologetic. Gasp-inducing scenes, sensational twists, and brilliant writing make While We Were Burning one unforgettable and unputdownable debut not to miss.” —Lọlá Ákínmádé Åkerström, author of In Every Mirror She’s Black
“[A] well-plotted cat-and-mouse thriller…Koffi has used the thriller genre with great effect for the prescient critique on the petty resentments and deliberate ignorance that underpin our racist power structure.” —Crime Reads
"A scorching revenge tale set in Memphis." —Paste
"Gripping...Koffi's characters are electric with passions." —Booklist
“A politically aware thriller from a passionate rookie author.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Themes of suburban ennui, casual racism, and mental health struggles are well explored.” —Publishers Weekly
"Sara Koffi's debut is an absolute banger of a book with so much bite that the ending left me with an audible gasp and a hand over my mouth. Confident and cunning, While We Were Burning presents a scorchingly smart tale of revenge that's worthy of a one-day binge. Seriously, cancel your plans." —Rachel Koller Croft, author of Stone Cold Fox
“Sara Koffi's While We Were Burning gives voice to the living and to the dead in a multiracial America, where the characters' individual and collective hopes hang in the balance due to the traumatic and costly residuals of history. Koffi's cogent, unclouded depiction of Black and White lives along many spectrums of choice and consequence carry this Hitchockian novel to a fitting but still astonishing crescendo. Above all, While We Were Burning achieves an all-embracing contemporary story of the risks of friendship and love for us all.” —Kalisha Buckhanon, author of Speaking of Summer
“An incendiary debut by a powerful new voice, While We Were Burning is a chilling and deliciously dark novel that explores the transformative crucible of grief and the impossibilities of reckoning with loss. It kept me guessing until the end and haunted me for long after.” —Ling Ling Huang, author of Natural Beauty
"Koffi's writing hits hard and shines with a boldness and unflinching honesty in every word. While We Were Burning is a brilliant debut novel that captivated me with every twist, turn and detail on the page." —Kit Mayquist, author of Tripping Arcadia