Although 16-year-old Ava Lee survived a fire, she’s not sure if she has the strength to survive returning to high school.
Ava is the only survivor of the fire that killed her mother, father, and cousin, Sara. After a year of painful recovery, Ava’s doctor and her aunt, Cora, who is Sara’s mother, tell her that it’s time to go back to school. Ava reluctantly agrees to try it for two weeks; after the trial period, she is determined to return to her solitary routine, taking classes online and avoiding looking in the mirror. But at school she unexpectedly befriends Piper, a fellow burn survivor with a dark secret. Together, Ava and Piper struggle to be normal—or, at least, as close as they can get to it. Debut author Stewart’s research into the experiences of burn survivors shows: Ava’s and Piper’s wit, honesty, and strength shine with authenticity, and their struggle to understand how to be “ordinary” teenagers is just the right amount of poignant. Stewart treats the appearances of her disabled characters—and, in particular, their ravaged skin—with care, never sugarcoating the truth but also never resorting to condescension or pity. Unfortunately, Asad, the only character of color in the book, is repeatedly referred to as having “hazelnut” skin, a departure that is notable because of its contrast to the descriptions of white characters.
A tender, frank coming-of-age story about the pain and power of survival. (Fiction. 14-18)