"It wasn't much, really, the whole Jessica Feeney thing....She was a girl who came into my class after the beginning of the year and was only there for a couple of weeks or so....Then she wasn't there anymore. That was pretty much it." Those are the thoughts expressed by Tom, a seventh grader, in the opening paragraph of "Firegirl" by Tony Abbott. The words seem simple, but they grabbed this reader. The essence of something profound just seeps through the simple tone of those words.
As librarian in a PK-8 Catholic school, I seek out books that will engage reluctant readers, not only to read, but to read compassionately. My school's motto is "Kindness is practiced here," so anything that can evoke kindness is a must-have book. "Firegirl" is definitely one of those books.
A bit overweight and highly self-conscious, Tom is not the expected candidate to befriend a lonely, excluded, severely burned girl who joins his class just after school begins its fall session. In fact, Jessica is so badly burned that students are horrified by her condition and fearful that they will get it, too, all the while knowing that such a condition is not contagious. Consider: These are children at an age when rejection is devastation. They feel that her "freak"-ish condition will harm them in some way and thus treat her as a pariah, then make up horrible stories concerning the origin of the fire that burned her. Anything to ward off her condition, one they impulsively, compellingly, subconsciously do not want--to stand out in such an undesirable way.
Yet Tom, who has one friend, and not a very pleasant one at that, is touched by her condition. When the teacher asks Tom to deliver a homework assignment to her house (they live just a few streets from each other), he agrees, but reluctantly. During prayer, since he sits closest to her, holds her hand. His selfish friend will not.
Jessica and her parents are in town for special medical treatment for Jessica and will leave when it's over. Her three weeks at this school with these kids, particularly Tom, will change both her and Tom in wonderful ways. "Wonder n. One that arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration; a marvel" --from www.answers.com
Early in the novel, I kept wondering why the author chose such a devastating condition to include in the lives of middle school students. What point was he going to make? Frankly, I was a bit leery of his intentions. By novel's end, I was stunned by the author's thoughtfulness and purpose. In fact, this is a book I may read aloud to middle school students this year to discuss compassion and all it holds and indicates.
This is a fine book to add to the middle school library. No doubt!
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski