THE FLAME TREE by Richard Lewis


Age Range: 14 & up
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In this uneasy mix of thriller and didacticism, 12-year-old Isaac, son of American missionary doctors in Java, finds his life in danger after September 11, 2001, when fundamentalist Muslims rebel against Americans. Although Isaac and his parents have made friends among the locals, no one helps when Isaac is taken captive and treated brutally. The physical setting is well-conveyed, but readers get almost no political or historical background to put the Muslim’s angry actions in context. Negative imagery describes the Islamic fundamentalists; one’s smile curves as sharply as “a scimitar’s blade,” and his “long narrow tongue flickered as he spoke.” Even a seemingly kind Islamic scholar and a wise religious leader do little to protect the boy from physical violence. The climax, with its scenes of Isaac and his mother forgiving those who harmed him, are unconvincing and heavy-handed. The author, who lives in Indonesia, clearly knows the culture and presumably hopes to build a bridge between the two religious traditions, but both emerge tarnished, especially Islam. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-689-86333-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2004


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