Posts Tagged ‘Firegirl’

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

February 24th, 2014

August Pullman has only ever been homeschooled, with only a few friends outside of his family. So when his parents decide it’s a good idea to send him to a local private middle school for fifth grade (go figure), he’s understandably nervous.

Except August isn’t just nervous because he’s a sheltered homeschooler. He’s worried because…well, his face…

August was born with a rare genetic anomaly (never given the name Treacher-Collins in the book, but that’s what it is) that resulted in a slew of “craniofacial abnormalities”. That’s the nice way to say it.

Most kids just call him “freak”.

My church’s book club selected this book for their February discussion, so Daniel and I listened to an audio version on our way up to and back down from Lincoln this last weekend.

Let me tell you first that the women in the bookclub were almost unanimous in loving this book. I felt a bit like a sore thumb, as the newest member of the group (it was my first discussion with them) and as one who just wasn’t crazy about Wonder.

It was a nice story. It was cute. It was the first book I’ve read in which the main character had craniofacial abnormalities. But it wasn’t great.

The story was told from the perspective of a half dozen kids, alternating narrators every few chapters (with a bit of overlap on key scenes). I liked seeing from multiple limited viewpoints. But the kids all sounded alike (that is, there wasn’t anything in the writing to make them different–the voice actors were VERY different.) A couple of high schoolers who gave their perspectives added elements I didn’t like, that I thought were too mature for a novel about a fifth grader.

Furthermore, I felt like both the story and the characters were there to serve a moral. The author was trying to make a point first and the story was just there to make that point.

I feel bad, writing such a negative sounding review. So many others loved this book–and I concede that it’s not a bad book.

But my perspective is likely clouded by my experience reading Tony Abbott’s Firegirl (link to my review). Like Wonder, Firegirl is a middle grade novel about a child with a “deformed” face. Both are told from a child’s perspective. Both have a moral of sorts. But Firegirl outperforms Wonder in every way (assuming my memory of Firegirl is accurate.)

Firegirl is very suitable for a middle grade audience, with little besides necessary discomfort with the topic to give any pause. Firegirl has dynamic, well-formed characters. And Firegirl doesn’t make obsessive mention of popular culture, making it suitable for more than just the next two years (I got so frustrated with the “product placement” in Wonder. Just off the top of my head, we’ve got mention of an iMac, an X-box 360, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Star Wars, some brand name jacket/hoodie, and a cartoon I didn’t recognize. And that’s with me not being a detail person–especially not when listening versus actually reading.)

So, yeah. Um.

Read Firegirl.

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Middle Grade Fiction
Synopsis: Fifth Grade August Pullman, whose face is disfigured by a rare congenital condition, goes to school with other kids for the first time.
Recommendation: Clearly not my favorite book. It wasn’t awful, but Tony Abbott’s Firegirl did a much better job with a similar story.

Book Review: “Firegirl” by Tony Abbott

June 21st, 2011

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.



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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