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THE BARN BURNER by Patricia Willis


by Patricia Willis

Pub Date: April 17th, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-98409-2
Publisher: Clarion Books

In this compelling, well-written historical novel, peopled with beautifully realized characters, Willis (Danger Along the Ohio, 1997, etc.) explores the themes of finding oneself, of friendship, and of the true meaning of family and home. Set in Ohio in 1933, it tells of 14-year-old Ross Cooper, who has seemingly been banished from home after a violent confrontation with his abusive father. Awakening one morning in a burning barn, Ross is seen running from the blaze by two men and is naturally assumed to be the perpetrator. Worse still, he believes he will thus be suspected in a series of mysterious barn burnings that have recently beset the region. On the road once again, he meets a kind family, the Warfields. After helping them push their heavily laden cart out of a muddy rut, he is invited to stay with them. At first Ross demurs, but he soon realizes the offer provides a welcome way for him to experience family life again and to hide while he attempts to root out the real criminal. The novel thus seamlessly takes on the elements of a mystery. With the help of newfound friends and his new family, who believe in his innocence and have grown to love him, Ross eventually—albeit unwittingly at first—uncovers the identity of the true arsonist. This is a terrifying scene as he and the younger Warfield children almost perish in yet another fire set by the man. Readers will long remember this scene as well as the heart-wrenching decision that Ross makes at the conclusion of the novel. Worthy. (Fiction. 10-14)