Take one angry 18-year-old, sprinkle with zingy narrative, and add a match.
Mack is mad, and he has been since his mother died three years ago after a valiant battle with cancer. He is surrounded by people who care—his mayor grandfather, the Vietnam vet; his sweet, brownie-baking grandmother; his father; his younger (and angrier) sister; and buddy Sam, orphan and philosopher—but he finds solace only in setting fires. After he torches a boathouse at the start of senior year, his inner firebug itches for more, which eventually leads to a sobering comeuppance and the beginnings of true peace. Too smart by half, Mack is appealing even when he irritates; a mix of first-person narration, almost omniscient interstitials about the county ("a territorial division...far, far away from any ocean"), and dialogue-heavy scenes propel the small story (the whole novel takes place in only two months) forward from fire to fire, flashing back to Mack’s mother’s death and detailing an unexpected but welcome relationship with local college girl Katrina (who has her own demons). Drinking, F-bombs, and humor abound, but so does a genuine sense of mourning and growth, even if Mack’s narrative sometimes smacks of adult understanding.
An unusual coming of age, sparking a hot if not quite perfect conflagration. (Fiction. 14 & up)