Burning City

Burning City

5.0 3
by Ariel Dorfman

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It is the simmering summer of 2001 in New York City. Heller is the youngest employee of Soft Tidings, a messenger service whose motto is “news with a personal touch.” At Soft Tidings, a message is not handed over but told to the recipient. And the messages, as a rule, are not especially good news. Heller prefers his bike to the mandatory Rollerblades, and


It is the simmering summer of 2001 in New York City. Heller is the youngest employee of Soft Tidings, a messenger service whose motto is “news with a personal touch.” At Soft Tidings, a message is not handed over but told to the recipient. And the messages, as a rule, are not especially good news. Heller prefers his bike to the mandatory Rollerblades, and he gets away with his maniacal bike riding because he is, hands down, the best deliverer of bad news. This summer will be memorable for Heller as he finds himself drawn into the lives of a wildly diverse cast of characters, accidentally falling in love, and relating to people in a whole new way.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A 16-year-old works as a messenger, delivering "news with a personal touch." According to PW, "the hero's derring-do on a bike will entice some readers, and the portrait of New York just before September 11 will draw others." Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2005: It's the scorching summer of 2001 in New York City, and 16-year-old Heller is working as a messenger for a company named Soft Tidings, zooming all over Manhattan at top speed on his bike and delivering news with "a personal touch." Heller is especially good at gently delivering bad news, and he encounters all kinds of strange characters in the course of his work. He dreams of winning bike races, makes some unexpected new friends, and falls in love with beautiful Silvia, only to find he's too afraid to deliver bad news to her. When one of Heller's new friends, an illegal immigrant named Salim, is badly beaten by a brutal cop and then disappears from the hospital, Heller mobilizes his friends to search for Salim, confronting the melting pot of Manhattan in the melting heat. In the end, Heller finds himself changed by the events of the summer, with new confidence and a new understanding and appreciation of others. Co-written by playwright Ariel Dorfman (Death and the Maiden) and his son, who was a teenager at the time, this unusual but compelling and intensely charged urban drama was originally published in Great Britain. KLIATT Codes: S—Recommended for senior high school students. 2003, Random House, 259p., Ages 15 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Heller is a philosophical 16-year-old bike messenger, and it's a good thing, because he is always tapped to deliver bad news. His company, Soft Tidings, believes in a personal touch, and their messengers communicate verbally. Though Heller is their youngest employee, he's best at providing comfort and peace along with painful tidings. He is less successful in his personal life; an unrequited crush on Silvia leads him to seek advice from a rich cast of characters. Salim Adasi, one of the teen's customers, provides some guidance and insight, though the man's status as an illegal immigrant makes him a target of Bruno the Bruiser, an over-the-top New York City cop. When Heller receives a sad message of his own, his philosophy and attitude are put to the test. The authors' descriptions of summer in Manhattan are flawless; the city seethes as Heller surges through its streets like an electron, connecting people and lives in complicated ways. His bicycle athletics make for flashy, exciting reading. With just a few lines of description or a quick dialogue, the authors provide the secondary characters with background and texture. Heller's own situation at home with his grandparents, by contrast, is a bit underdeveloped. His shyness with Silvia, along with the messages he delivers, contributes a hint of plot to this dreamy, episodic novel. It's the characters, their conversations, and histories that will draw in older, thoughtful teens.-Sarah Couri, New York Public Library Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Heller thought the entire world was going to melt that summer.
It was the Fourth of July and all of Manhattan was sweating. It was coming out of the streets, buildings, faucets; even the Hudson River could be heard for miles, begging for a drink, something to keep it cool. Radios reported the weather out of habit. Sleeping couples woke up to damp sheets. Construction workers went without their shirts and stockbrokers loosened their ties with quiet envy. Tourists complained, ice-cream vendors smiled, and mercury climbed steadily up tired thermometers.
Heller Highland saw all of this, and that which he couldn’t see he simply knew. School had been out for just over a month. He sat on the roof of his building and kept his eyes on the sky, due southeast. Glass of water in his left hand, ice already dissolved, even in the cool of the evening. Airplane lights traveled past, left and right, fireflies of the twentieth century--
Twenty-first century, Heller corrected himself silently. It’s two thousand and one; twenty-first century. . . .
He took a sip of water. Waited for the fireworks to start.
Independence Day.
There was no American flag in his right hand. Just a telegram. No red, white, or blue. Just an elegantly embossed message on an ambiguously light green card; 4 x 8. Heller was barely aware he was holding it. Just watched the sky. An unchanging Manhattan skyline. The sounds of the city kept him company. The distant blast of traffic, pedestrians, and the hum of a thousand air conditioners and fans, all in the same key.
A breeze managed to find its way into the city, and Heller’s blond hair lifted itself, thankful. Heller smiled. He stopped. Smiled again, stopped, smiled, bit his lip and stopped. A few seconds later the wind died down, and Heller was left in his chair, on his roof, in his city of millions.
“Fireworks are late,” came a voice behind him.
Heller didn’t turn around. “Any minute now, I’m sure.”
His grandfather, Eric, walked up next to him, stood for a while, glanced down.
“Soft Tidings?”
“I thought you had the day off.”
“It’s from Mom and Dad.”
“Really? What’s it say?”
“Haven’t read it.”
Eric kept quiet, thought about it. Then:
“They should be coming back soon.”
“I’d like to think so. . . .”
Grandfather forced a chuckle. “You make it sound like they’re dead.”
“I do not,” Heller said. “I just know how it can be with them.”
The two of them watched the sky. An ambulance cried in the distance. Heller wondered at the emergency. Thought about a phone call at three in the morning. Thought about a family waiting for news thousands of miles away. Thought too much.
“Did you see Silvia today?” Eric asked.
“. . . I stopped by the coffee shop,” Heller said cautiously. “She was there.”
“When do I get to meet her?”
“I know your grandmother’s been wanting to meet her for a long time. . . . Heller?”
“I know how she feels. . . .”
“Heller?” Eric repeated, voice softer this time.
“We should have had some sort of celebration, you know.”
“I like celebrating like this.”
“Are you happy living with your grandmother and me?”
“You know I am.”
“Are you sure?”
“You know I am,” Heller said.
“Mom and Dad are fine, I promise.”
“Now you make it sound like they’re dead.”
“I don’t think you’re hearing me right.”
An explosion tore the night apart and a hot blast of red lit the air. Heller jumped inadvertently. Within three seconds the entire night was filled with a thousand lights, imitation stars, fireworks mirroring the glow of apartments and office buildings.
“Hey, there they are,” Eric said.
“Boom, boom.”
“Happy Fourth of July, Heller.”
Heller nodded.
“I’ll go get your grandmother.”
Heller listened to his grandfather’s footsteps head for the stairs. The sky erupted over and over, and Heller felt the smile return, bit his lip. “Eric?”
The footsteps halted. Twelve deafening fireworks were released at once.
“Mom and Dad say they’re doing fine.”
Heller cleared his throat. “Happy Fourth of July.”
He couldn’t see his grandfather but could sense him nodding as he said, “Happy birthday, Heller. . . . Sweet sixteen . . .”
The ribbons of light cascaded over the city. Blast after blast, the sky rained down on Heller and the rest of the country. The world seemed to be getting smaller, the summers hotter, and despite the air-conditioning, the city continued to sweat.
Heller brought the glass of water to his lips and realized it was empty.
The entire world was going to melt that summer.
There was no doubt about this in Heller’s mind.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Hailed as a literary grandmaster by Time magazine, Ariel Dorfman has received numerous international prizes for his novels, plays, poems, journalism, and essays.
Joaquin Dorfman opened his first play at the Edinburgh Festival at the age of 19. He has just finished his second novel, Through the Ordinary World.
The Dorfmans have also written two screenplays together. Ariel Dorfman lives in Durham, North Carolina, and Joaquin is between homes.

From the Hardcover edition.

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5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic. I kept passing this book in the library at my old high school. I would pick it up every few days and put it back down. This happened maybe 8 times until finally I just picked it up and checked it out. Definitely the right decision. I loved this book. There are so many different things going on in this story. It doesn't just focus on a couple of people. A diverse group of characters for an amazing story. Unfortunately, I had to check it back in when I was done with it. This is the best book I have ever read. And I have read A LOT. I'm hoping to buy a copy of it for myself for a birthday present. :) Read this. You won't regret it. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got an advanced copy of this book , and was blown away by the story telling and it's unique look into the way people relate.