Collige virgo rosas. Gather, girl, the roses.
Beck and Vivian’s best friend, Cassie, once had a faux tattoo of this Latin phrase drawn on her leg. It meant to seize the moment, she explained. That was before Cassie was murdered by her boyfriend, the heir to local gun manufacturer Bell Firearms, in a shooting at school.
Gather, girl, the roses. In Morris Award finalist Kyrie McCauley’s We Can Be Heroes, Cassie returns in incorporeal form to remind Beck and Vivian, both still grieving her death and lost in a world without her, to do just that and more. Seize the moment, expose the corrupt sheriff who refused to protect Cassie, fight Bell Firearms and its owner, who controls the entire town, and stop the epidemic of gun violence that disproportionately affects women.
Beck is an artist type, while Vivian is an overachiever. They annoy each other but work together out of their love for Cassie. They create large murals around town to honor Cassie, incorporating images of tragic heroines from Greek mythology to condemn Bell Firearms and those who respond to tragedies like Cassie’s with thoughts, prayers and shrugs. The connections McCauley draws between the ancient tales and Cassie’s own story are a highlight of the book. Fans of Greek myths, from Andromeda to Medusa, will appreciate these powerful parallels.
McCauley also plays with form, incorporating transcripts from a true crime podcast about Cassie’s murder as well as chapters written in verse in which the incorporeal Cassie ponders her life, death and afterlife. The novel is heavy on flashbacks, which sometimes weigh down the pace, but the transcripts, helmed by a fiery host, are a podcast enthusiast’s dream. You can almost hear the episodes in your mind as they educate listeners about domestic gun violence and move the plot closer to justice.
McCauley spends time exploring Beck’s sexuality, suggesting not only that she might be queer but also that she might have romantic feelings for Vivian. McCauley has compared Beck and Vivian to two Marvel characters whose textually platonic relationship is commonly interpreted as queer by fans. It’s an apt comparison: The dynamic between the two girls is neither subtle enough to add tension to the plot nor explicit enough to result in a satisfying moment of catharsis, which some readers may find frustrating. As a story about how friendship can heal the wounds of the past, however, We Can Be Heroes delivers.
“We shouldn’t have to do it— / set ourselves on fire to change the way things are,” reflects Cassie as her friends dig deep to avenge her. “But I think maybe / to be a girl in this world / sometimes you have to burn.” McCauley’s call to action in this not-quite ghost story, not-quite crime thriller is clear: Gather, girl, the roses.