In a sad, haunting story of murder and its tragic aftermath, 18-year-old Frances Robinson seems to have a picture-perfect life in tiny Bethel, Ala., complete with a loving family, a fun-loving best friend and even a cute new boyfriend. But beneath this happy façade lies a dark and ugly past: 11 years ago, her mother gradually descended into insanity and one day suffocated Frances's three younger sisters; Frances escaped death only because a passerby came to her rescue. Now, safe and secure with her adopted family, Frances struggles to move on and forget her survivor's guilt. But all the terrible memories come crashing back when she learns that her mother has been released from prison and placed in a halfway home-and wants to see Frances. "I need to see you," she writes from her undisclosed location. "We have to finish." Deciding that she can't fully embrace her future without confronting her past, Frances and her boyfriend, Nix, secretly take off on a road trip to find her mother. The story captivates at times, but progresses awkwardly. The flashbacks to Frances's childhood disrupt the pacing at the beginning, but most are too brief for readers to glean significant insight from them. The momentum picks up considerably when the teens set off on their journey, but the curve-ball conclusion isn't remotely plausible. Ages 14-up. (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
"Shine is my name in Fireless," (p.2) but in the current timeframe of the story, Frances is 18 and still a junior in high school. Through alternating chapters we learn about the shattering events of her childhood that led to a new name and adoption at age seven. Fireless is the make-believe world her biological mother created for herself and four daughters as she slid ever deeper into a psychotic depression that eventually led to her murdering the three youngest children. Frances lives in fear that she carries the taint, the destiny of madness. When a stranger, claiming to be her mother's attorney, appears with a note asking for a meeting, Frances plots with her best friend, Ann Mirette, and her new boyfriend, Nix, to track down her mother. Her adoptive parents have worked hard to hide Frances' identity from an exploitative media; they would absolutely forbid this reunion if they knew, but Frances feels she has to confront her demons. There is a twist when she finally locates her mother, since the phony lawyer has manipulated events for his own purposes. The symbolic ending feels a bit contrived and much too abrupt. Teens will easily identify with the mix of feelings Frances has towards her protective parents, at times grateful but also feeling stifled. This would be a potentially valuable read for YA's dealing with more challenging issues such as adoption, mental illness of a parent, or loss of siblings. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
To most people who know her, Frances appears to lead a quiet, happy, sheltered life. She has a loving but overprotective family; a strong, opinionated best friend; and a budding relationship with the new boy in town. Beneath the surface, however, lies a dark secret that has tormented Frances for eleven years: One morning, her biological mother took each of her four daughters upstairs and smothered them with pillows. Only Frances survived. The arrival of a stranger carrying a message sparks a journey to face the monster and put an end to her nightmares. Along the way, she discovers strength and resilience, accepts the loss she could not prevent, and learns to move forward at last. The plot takes some leaps and occasionally borders on melodrama, but readers will forgive those flaws and follow the story eagerly to the end. Teenagers will relate to the quick intensity of new relationships and the exhilaration and fear of clandestine road trips. Haunting memories from her childhood are interwoven with the everyday life Frances has found with her adoptive family, flowing smoothly from past to present and back again, and giving flesh to the characters and the worlds they inhabit. The flashbacks provide a rich atmosphere as well as necessary background. This coming-of-age story is told in a sensitive but not sentimental or sensationalized manner. Frances grows to see her own past not through the eyes of a scared seven-year-old, but through those of the young adult she has become. Reviewer: Cheryl French
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up- Eighteen-year-old Frances Robinson, born Francine Jelks, has been living in Alabama with her loving, adopted family for years, but there are still nights when she wakes up in a cold sweat, reminded that she once lived in a place called Fireless with her mother, Afton, and three younger sisters. One day a lawyer arrives, informing her that Afton has been released into a halfway house and giving her a letter from her mother; it ends, "We need to finish." The last time Frances saw Afton was when the woman tried to suffocate her with a pillow after murdering her siblings in the same fashion. With the help of her friend Ann Mirette, Frances plans a road trip with her boyfriend, "Nix," to find her birth mother. As scared as she is of seeing this frightening figure from the past, she wants to know if her mother was all bad. Can there be any good left in a person who was capable of something so evil? Nelson's novel is a thoughtful, moody, and entirely thrilling book. Flashbacks of Frances's youth in Fireless establish a creepy atmosphere showing Afton's descent into darkness. Nelson lightens the mood with a supporting cast of sympathetic and quirky characters, including recent New Orleans transplant Nix. Breathe My Name doesn't shy away from exploring the gray areas: forgiveness and family. With major twists and turns in the last 50 pages, this book will keep readers riveted until the very end.-Jennifer Barnes, Homewood Library, IL Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Frances left Fireless, her mother's dark imaginary world, years ago and found comfort in an adoptive family, but when she receives a letter from a psychiatric hospital saying "finish it," horrific memories surface. Two small sisters lie lifeless on a bed; sick games turn giggles into shrieks; and a mother's saucer eyes terrify. To end these nightmarish visitations, Frances embarks on a secret road trip to face her mother. Her boyfriend, Nix, drives, offering empathy and humor. Nelson's teen characters emerge as unique, fully realized people with accents, physical features and emotional dimensions that distinguish them from familiar young-adult caricatures. Vivid, unnerving scenes from Fireless break up Frances's present-day journey, jolting readers and placing them inside her psyche. With sensationalized news everywhere, teens will be fascinated by Frances's childhood at the center of a media-crazed tragedy. Readers also see what happens to the tragic players after cameras stop clicking. An unlikely final twist does not dilute Nelson's incandescent writing. Its shimmering clarity transfixes the reader, candling both damaging and redemptive familial forces. (Fiction. YA)