Age Range: 12 & up
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“Did you know that if it wasn’t for the periodic sweep of fire, our forests wouldn’t be able to thrive?” a minor character asks Teresa, the teenage narrator of this realistic novel, whose house has recently burned down. Teresa finds to her surprise that, like a forest fire, the house fire changes her life—in some ways for the better. Living in a highly dysfunctional family and practically invisible in school when the story opens, Teresa longs to be beautiful and popular. Only Wesley, a high-achieving fellow student assigned to a science project with her, even notices Teresa. Although her sights are set on a handsomer boy, Wesley grows on her as they work together, and a romance develops. At home, Teresa’s unreliable mother, known as the most beautiful woman in their small town, latches onto a new boyfriend, potentially husband number four. Teresa’s family role is to bolster her mother’s ego and ease her conscience about neglecting her three children, while Teresa’s older sister rebels and criticizes the mother she increasingly resembles. The fire sends the family into disarray and by the end, they are largely scattered to different places. At the same time, Teresa lets down her guard at school when other kids show an interest in the tragedy. Despite the formulaic plot of “tragedy transforms teenager” and occasional awkward sentences, this first novel engages the reader with strong storytelling, genuine adolescent emotions, and realistic dialogue especially within Teresa’s family. The conclusion is only partly hopeful, but then, so is life for many teenagers. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: June 11th, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-72978-2
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2002