Book Review: “Firegirl” by Tony Abbott

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 at 6:45 am

Tom is a rather ordinary seventh grade boy.

He hangs out with his best friend Jeff, reads comic books, drools over red Cobras, and dreams of having “ordinary” superpowers that enable him to save the life of his secret crush, Courtney.

Enter Jessica Feeney.

“It’s odd now to think of how I almost missed what Mrs. Tracy said next. I almost missed it, thinking about Courtney, but I looked up just in time and now I can never forget it.

‘There is…,’ Mrs. Tracy was saying quietly, ‘there is something you need to know about Jessica…'”

Jessica was burned. Badly.

She’s undergoing skin graft treatments at a nearby hospital, which is why she’s going to be joining their classroom partway through the semester.

She looks… awful.

Weird.

Scary.

No one knows what to do or say or think when Jessica’s around.

Firegirl cover

What do you do when “firegirl” walks into your classroom?

I picked this title up because the author “Abbott” just happens to be the very first author in Eiseley library’s alphabetically-by-author-last-name-listed juvenile fiction section. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the almost-YA-looking cover with its string of paper people holding hands–all except the one girl who is singed and burnt.

Turns out, once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

Firegirl is a snapshot in Tom’s life–just the record of the month or so that Jessica was in his junior high classroom.

But it’s a month that shaped his outlook. It’s a month where he had to make decisions about following the crowd or doing what’s right. It’s a month where he had to decide whether to base his actions on his feelings or on what’s right.

Here, faced with the melted exterior of Jessica Feeney, he has to decide whether the outside or the inside was more important.

I was glad to find that Firegirl was not misclassified in the juvenile fiction section (as opposed to the YA fiction.) This book has none of the graphic violence or gratuitous sex so common in YA fiction–nor does it have the blatant rebellion that is generally in ready supply in that genre. Instead, this is a not-at-all-saccharine story that deals with real-life issues in what I believe is a thoroughly appropriate manner. Tom’s crush is just that–a crush–with no accompanying sexual fantasies or even middle school dating (which I abhor). Jessica’s burns and the circumstances of her burns are not described in an overly sensational way (although they are described realistically). And Tom comes from a relatively functional family that he appreciates (although we see that his friend Jeff comes from a broken family–with some definite consequences to Jeff’s outlook and actions.)

This was a surprisingly good story, and definitely one that I’d recommend. (Although I’d encourage parents to preview it or read it along with their child–while I feel that the subject is dealt with in a very appropriate manner, it’s still a pretty weighty topic, especially given the context of Jessica’s burns.)


Rating: 5 stars
Category:Middle Grade Fiction
Synopsis:Tom learns about compassion and about judging by appearances when a badly burned Jessica Feeney enters his middle school classroom.
Recommendation: For lack of a better term, I can only say that this is probably the most appropriate book I’ve ever read. It deals with tough topics in a realistic yet non-sensational manner. I highly recommend it.

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