This debut YA novel about an aspiring firefighter aims to entertain and inform young readers while also keeping them on the straight and narrow.
Author Hughes, himself a firefighter, builds a story around a prank gone wrong. On a dare from his friend Pete Krause, Sam Avery conspires in setting off a fire alarm and gets caught by the police. Due in part to his own code of silence (he won’t rat out Pete), Sam’s punishment is to spend time after school at the nearby fire station—but it quickly becomes no punishment at all. Although he’s continually reminded of the gravity of his prank, the firefighters recognize him for the good kid that he is and adopt him, as it were. Sam is fascinated by the firefighting equipment, the drills, the dispatching procedures—all of it. He even gets the errant Pete, who’s starting down the wrong path in life, to join him in the “maze truck” for a simulation of a house fire that allows trainees to rescue dummies hidden inside. In the end, Sam, of course, sets his sights on being a firefighter himself. Overall, this is a well-written book for its intended audience. It’s hardly nuanced—the good grown-ups, such as Sam’s parents, have stilted dialogue that bolsters the message but makes them seem like cardboard cutouts. On the other hand, the flak that Sam gets from his schoolmates rings true, as does his response to it. One high point of the story is the school’s entertainment night: with the help of the firefighters, Sam and Pete put on a skit demonstrating fire safety that brings the house down. Another highlight, at book’s end, is Sam’s involvement in rescuing a neighborhood curmudgeon, “Pepperhead” Pepperell, from his burning house; just as Pete’s life is set on a new path, the lonely widower is encouraged to rejoin the human race.
Hughes is to be commended, and his book recommended, for balancing its realism with its positive message.