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"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Firegirl by Tony Abbott

You know that Tom Bender is a decent kid when he uses “Gosh” instead of the casual alternative. Tom attends St. Catherine school where he doesn’t stand out at all. But Tom has a depth of compassion and decency that may not stand out, but it is brought out when Jessica joins the class.

Jessica, a.k.a. the “Firegirl” was badly burned in a car accident. She joins Tom’s 7th grade class while undergoing treatments at a nearby hospital.

Before Jessica is introduced, we get to know Tom and his friend Jeff a bit. Then, the book starts the roller coaster ride: one moment you’re laughing about Tom’s comic-book fantasies of rescuing the beautiful Courtney and engendering her undying gratitude, and the next, your feelings plunge into shock when Jessica shows up looking monstrous. It’s quite a juxtaposition. It’s just how the class must have felt.

Then the coaster twists with Jeff. You knew he was a bit quirky when he popped the question to Tom, “Have you ever smelled blood?” (His mom is a nurse, and you could almost blow the comment off, but Jeff turns out to be an angry, troubled boy.) He sets a toy car on fire at one point. He also becomes downright cruel by mocking and making cutting remarks about Jessica.

Then the coaster takes a new twist as Tom starts to befriend Jessica, and Jessica bluntly states that she hates her mother. Although you’d like to find out why, the author doesn’t answer this directly; he infers that Jessica is punishing her mother for leaving her in the car, which was how she ended up caught in the fire when the car was hit.

The book ends with a positive picture of the decency of Tom and the impact that he had on Jessica with the simple kindness of treating her as a human being and struggling to overcome his natural revulsion with gestures of friendship stemming from humane compassion. Tim doesn’t believe he succeeded, an endearing humility, because he did succeed more than any of his classmates. In 2 brief weeks, Jessica changed his life, but he also changed hers.

A point of discussion I noted was that Tom, an ordinary, yet extraordinary boy, was from a two-parent home and liked his parents. Jeff came from a divorce where his father had no time for him, was caught up with his new girlfriend, and his mother worked a lot. Jeff had little emotional resources left for Jessica because of his own unresolved anger.

While this is a well-written book with an overall positive message, its heavy topics warrant a head's up…

Rating: 1 Vatican Flag


Anonymous,  April 7, 2010 at 5:41 PM  

really good book.

Anonymous,  August 20, 2011 at 9:58 AM  

what was the time period?

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