Burning Up

Burning Up

4.1 58
by Caroline B. Cooney

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Fifteen-year-old Macey Clare loves her Connecticut hometown, where her mother grew up and her grandparents still live, and she likes visiting her grandparents even more now that their neighbors’ handsome grandson, Austin, has moved in.
But when Macey decides to research the history of a burned-out barn across the street from her

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Fifteen-year-old Macey Clare loves her Connecticut hometown, where her mother grew up and her grandparents still live, and she likes visiting her grandparents even more now that their neighbors’ handsome grandson, Austin, has moved in.
But when Macey decides to research the history of a burned-out barn across the street from her grandparents’ home for a school report, she gets a shock about what happened. Nobody can change the past, but is Macey ready to take the responsibility for the present and in the process reveal dark secrets about her town and the people she loves?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Macey senses a connection between a 1959 barn fire and an arsonist's attack on an inner-city church. PW wrote, "Even though Macey's introduction to prejudice and her unshakable nobility are slightly overdrawn, she remains a sympathetic figure." Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
To quote KLIATT's Jan. 1999 review of the hardcover edition: Macey, age 15, lives happily in a wealthy town in Connecticut. When her teacher assigns a local history project, she decides to investigate a fire in her grandparents' neighborhood that took place 38 years ago and left a man homeless. Oddly, no one wants to discuss it, and when Macey finds out that the man was the first African American teacher in town, she's more determined than ever to find out what really happened. Her resolve is further strengthened when she's almost killed in a fire set by an arsonist at an inner-city school where Macey had volunteered to paint. When the African American girl she met there is later killed in street violence, Macey decides to take a good, hard look at the racism she hadn't realized existed in her community—and in her own family. Another plot line deals with her new boyfriend, Austin, who's living with his grandparents while his parents sort out their relationship. This look at racism and family relationships will most likely appeal to readers like Macey, who is just learning about becoming part of the solution instead of standing by and ignoring social problems. Cooney isn't subtle about spelling out her messages: finding your own "true colors" and putting out "the fire of hate." These are important messages, though, and perhaps this novel will open some readers' eyes to racism in their communities. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1999, Random House/Dell Laurel-Leaf, 230p, 18cm, $5.50. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
ALAN Review
Down the road from her grandparents' Shell Beach, Connecticut, home, fifteen-year-old Macey Clare discovers the foundation of a barn that burned down nearly forty years ago. Naturally curious, Macey wants to know more about the barn and the circumstances behind the fire. So, she begins asking her grandparents and their neighbors. But, when Macey finds normally friendly people evading her questions, her desire to learn more about the barn only increases. Macey meets up with another neighborhood teenager, Austin, and together, they begin to gather facts about the barn's mysterious fire. They learn that the last inhabitant of the barn was one Wade Sibley, the first and only African-American teacher in this small Connecticut town. Macey suspects racism and her hunt for the truth leads her to a conflict that unwittingly tears her once perfect hometown and family apart. Caroline Cooney, author of many fine young adult novels, writes another fine coming-of-age tale where young love--Austin and Macey eventually become an item--and the desire for truth and justice become intertwined in a moving and convincing read. Genre: Family/Friendship/Racial Issues. 1999, Delacorte Press, Ages 12 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Kimberly Quackenbush
VOYA - Hillary Theyer
This story, about teens experiencing young love and trying to solve a mystery from the past, also tackles our country's racial divide. Fifteen-year-old Macey lives in an idyllic Connecticut town, where her mother grew up and her grandparents still live. At an inner-city church Macey meets Venita, a tough-talking but likeable girl. When an arsonist sets fire to Venita's church, Macey is scared and intrigued enough to begin investigating a racially motivated fire in her town from 1959. Rebuffed by the town residents, Macey enlists the help of Austin, a new boy in town living with his grandparents, and the two form a close bond as they explore the town's history. When Austin's grandfather asks him to stop Macey investigating the 1959 fire, his relationship with his grandparents is jeopardized. Macey and Austin discover that the 1959 fire was set to burn the home of the town's first African American teacher, and though nobody admits to setting it, their grandparents watched with the rest of the town and did nothing. These revelations trouble the teens as they reexamine the kind of people their grandparents were at the time. Austin's grandparents are his safe haven away from his parents' rocky marriage, while Macey's are like second parents. When Austin has to leave, Macey is left to figure out how her perception of the town has changed her. Venita is killed in gang crossfire while defending the children in her church, making Macey wonder if 1959 and 1997 are really that different after all. Although the background on race relations sometimes threatens to overwhelm Macey and Austin's story, the plot moves along and stays right on track in this complex and thought-provoking novel. The deep and well-written characters provide a look at the relationship teens have with their grandparents uncommon in most YA novels. This title is more suited for older YAs because it is a more serious book than Cooney's Face on the Milk Carton (Bantam, 1990/VOYA February 1990) and most of her other works. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
(Gr 7-10) -- Researching a local-history project for school, 15-year-old Macey happens upon a 1959 arson case that targeted the first African-American teacher in her privileged Connecticut town. Shocked to learn that her community could have been so racially biased as to tolerate this attempted murder, she is further outraged when she realizes the extent to which her community remains segregated. Using library and Internet resources as well as interviews, Macey and her boyfriend, Austin, gradually uncover enough facts to confront the prejudice they perceive in others and begin to assess their own level of responsibility. This story line is strong. Clever phrasing and likable central characters enliven the story. The emotions are palpable, and the topic is important. Unfortunately, other details detract. Coincidentally, Macey, Austin, and friends are nearly killed by an arsonist while performing a community-service project. Coincidentally, the black girl Macey worked with is soon killed in an altercation with a gang. Macey and Austin live as neighbors with their respective grandparents and their romance is sweetly portrayed. However, it seems unrealistic that Austin would rather go back to Chicago to hope for his parents' reconciliation than finish the last three weeks of school with Macey. Extensive foreshadowing seems melodramatic and overwrought. It rankles that the word "fire" or related terms are present on more than one-third of the pages. Macey's investigation into racism is heartfelt and her personal commitment to action is laudable, but the book is not entirely convincing. -- Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA
Cathy Young
If you've read The Face on the Milk Carton, Whatever Happened to Janie?, or any of this bestselling author's other novels, you know that Caroline B. Cooney is a master at unraveling suspenseful yarns. As they unwind, these stories tug on our curiosities and pull us deeper and deeper into her characters' lives and circumstances. Cooney's newest, Burning Up, will grab your attention with equal force.

When 15-year-old Macey Clare decides to research a barn fire that happened decades ago in her small Connecticut town for a school project, she's met with a confusing, stony silence everywhere she turns. Even her parents and grandparents refuse to answer her questions about what happened that night 38 years ago. Why? Everyone, including her teacher and the librarian at school, encourages her to study another subject. Macey thinks this is very strange, but she grudgingly cooperates and begins researching the boring topic of the impact of railroads on her town's history.

Then, one Saturday, when she and her pals are helping to paint the classrooms of an inner-city church, Macey barely escapes a raging fire. As the fire roars around them and the teens run for safety, Macey's long hair catches fire. It is Austin who smothers it with his own shirt. If it weren't for her friend's fast reflexes, Macey might have burned to death. Now, with smoke lingering in her nose and lungs -- even days after the fire -- and her head covered only in short wisps of her remaining hair, Macey's curiosity about the barn fire 38 years ago returns.

Could there be a connection between the barn fire and the church fire in which Macey and her friends almost lost their lives?

Now Cooney's magic begins to blaze. Readers will be riveted in their seats, unable to put this novel down until its last page is devoured.

Macey enlists Austin's help, and together the two teens bravely piece together some answers about what happened the night the barn burned down. They discover that a man once lived in the barn's apartment, and that the man was also the very first black man hired to teach in the town's middle school. Macey's mother remembers the man well. In fact, he was her very favorite science teacher. Forty years later, Macey's mother can still remember specific lectures Mr. Sibley gave. If that's true, Macey wonders, why can't her mother remember the fire? And why do her grandparents, such jovial people normally, get so tight-lipped and evasive when she asks questions about that night? Does Macey have the courage to crack the town's stony silence and find out the truth -- even if it's an ugly truth about her own family?

Burning Up is a fast-paced, literary firestorm that will sweep into the hearts of teen readers and help them wrestle with difficult issues of race, prejudice, family secrets, and the profound destructiveness of hate, especially the quiet and polite kind of hate that gets institutionalized in some exclusive towns across America. This also is a story of courage -- courage that not only allows people to survive raging fires but also inspires them to stand up for what's right. Cooney's characters are complicated and drawn with depth and even some unexpected humor. Warming this story up even more is the crush that begins to smolder between Macey and Austin and the friendship that unfolds from the crush's energy. Cooney has done it again. Burning Up sizzles.


Kirkus Reviews
From Cooney (The Voice on the Radio, 1996, etc.), a hard look at the tacit, unacknowledged racism that lurks beneath the surface of an affluent, supposedly enlightened community. Macey loves her Connecticut town. Her grandparents, Papa and Nana, provide a home for her during the frequent absences of her upwardly mobile parents; school and friends are great; and handsome Austin is taking a flattering interest in her. The only thing that worries her is the reaction she gets from everyone she asks about a mysterious fire in 1959 that destroyed a local barn, and a renovated apartment within it, where a black teacher lived. When Macey is assigned community service painting an inner-city church, she is paired with a parishioner, Venita, and they bond, immediately. That day, however, an arsonist sets fire to the church, and they and others are almost killed. Macey is shocked at the viciousness of the act, and more curious about the long-ago fire near her home. When Venita is killed trying to protect a little girl from a gang, Macey grieves and begins to question seriously the chasm of hate between blacks and whites. The truth about the 1959 fire, which was deliberately set and witnessed by those closest to her, nearly destroys her. This thought-provoking story has a powerful message, effortlessly woven into the ordinary trappings of a teenager's life. Cooney allows for no cozy ending; as Macey faces what racism has done to her community, readers will question what it has done to theirs. (Fiction. 12-14) .

From the Publisher
"A powerful message, effortlessly woven into the ordinary trappings of a teenager's life." — Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Macey dashed out of the high school, filled with the energy of Friday afternoon. She always had to run toward the weekend. The first thing she did on Friday was put distance between herself and the school. Macey was good at school, had friends, liked her teachers--and yet the end of every school week was such a relief.

Around her, sports teams were piling into vans and buses: tennis, baseball, golf and swim teams. Kids with cars shot out of the student parking lot, windows down, so everybody could shout to everybody else.

"Hey, Mace!" came two voices. "Want a ride?" Macey's best friends, Lindsay and Grace, leaned out the window of a Volvo. Grace's mother had come to pick them up.

"I'm walking, thanks!" yelled Macey.

"Oh, right, it's Friday," said Lindsay, rolling her eyes. "She's got her shortcuts to take."

"Oh, brother," said Grace, laughing out the car window. "Being a juvenile again?"

Grace's mother blew a kiss to Macey, and they drove on. Macey waved no to the driver of her own school bus. It was a three-mile hike to her grandparents', but Macey took shortcuts. Her route was closer to a mile and a half, and if she ran, she could make it in twenty minutes. What the run really did was cut her off from school, making the weekend clean and separate and safe. Macey cut through the golf course, cut through the woods and behind the old supermarket, through backyards and finally through the swamp.

The swamp wasn't a hundred feet across, and it wasn't a block long, but it had the strength of a canyon. Nobody but Macey ever crossed it.

A few years ago, she'd dragged boards into the swamp to give herself a path over the wettest parts. She hopped on the edge of the first board to be sure it wouldn't split when she put her weight on it.

From a hundred yards away drifted the rich scent of ocean: mudflats and fish and salt water. It was a warm-weather smell. Last week had been March, when school was a thing that would last forever--but today it was the first week in April, and Macey could shade her eyes and catch a glimpse of summer.

Beyond the swamp was the old stone foundation of a barn. Come summer, wild roses and tiger lilies would make it a sunken garden. Macey was not basically a sitting-down person, but she loved to sit here. It was peaceful. Even in early April, the sun warmed the stones.

Back when there were horses, all these old shorefront houses had had stables. This one, turned into a garage and apartment, had burned when Macey's mother was a girl. Supposedly a man had been in it at the time. When Macey was very little, she'd been afraid of the foundation, because what if the body was still there, waiting for her to find the bones?

But now, at fifteen and a half, she found the idea of discovering bones appealing, like archaeology or journalism.

Ten seconds was plenty of time to sit and consider the olden days. Macey jumped up and cut across the backyards of Shell Beach to her grandparents' house.

Her parents were staying in New York City for dinner. This was good. Mom and Dad were so exhausted at the end of a week that they were useless; on Fridays they just plopped down and faded away, while the television droned and the pizza got cold.

Macey came in Nana and Papa's back door. Her grandparents' back porch was a large glassed-in room, sagging with piles of stuff. There were broken china cups filled with beach glass. There were collections of knotty driftwood and yellow seashells. There were old bathing suits, hung up to dry when Macey was six, or twelve, and never worn again, because Mom bought new ones that weekend. There were magazines that somebody meant to clip something from and lawn chairs somebody meant to repair. There were old golf clubs and new fishing rods and an outboard motor.

Hot cinnamon smells drifted out from the kitchen. Nana and Papa were baking. Food was the centerpiece of their lives. They watched all the TV cooking shows and quoted the great chefs as if they were family friends. They greeted Macey with hugs and kisses and went straight to the crucial topic: what to have for dinner.

"Three-cheese pasta?" suggested Papa. Papa had very high blood pressure and cholesterol, but he didn't care; he ate whatever he felt like. He usually felt like eating a lot.

"No, dear, I found luscious asparagus in the market this morning," said Nana. "We'll have asparagus omelets." Nana ate more than Papa, and together they made a very roly-poly couple. They were even fatter in their red-and-white-striped French chef aprons.

"Asparagus. Yuck," said Macey. "It's tall, thin slime."

Two sets of blue eyes turned on her. Two identical frowns beneath snowy white hair. "You walk the dogs," ordered Nana. "And we'll decide the menu," said Papa.

Zipper was an old collie, tired and lame, and the leash was not needed, because he would never stray from her side. Zipper liked to walk down to the sandy edge and sniff the salt water, maybe think about fish for a minute or two, and then totter home.

Moose was a chocolate Lab so large they had respelled his name from (chocolate) Mousse. Macey and Moose would fly down Shell Road, Macey more on the leash than Moose. If Macey didn't take care of Moose's exercise, nobody would, because her grandparents had pretty much surrendered on the exercise front.

Macey took each dog separately, five minutes for Zipper and half an hour for Moose. Back in the kitchen, her grandparents were between cooking shows, and so they turned to their second favorite subject: what Macey was up to.

"We have to do a local history paper," said Macey. "When Mrs. Johnson assigned it this morning, it felt like a ten-ton truck driving over my shoulders. But I ran all the way here, and now I think it might be okay."

"Tomorrow morning we'll go to the library and dig for a topic," said Papa, waving a sifter. Flour dusted his face.

"Papa, I'm not that excited about it. Anyway," she said gloomily, "tomorrow I have Saturday Group."

There was an expedition arranged, and they were to meet at 8:30 a.m. Macey did not feel like showing up. Saturday Group was hard. Volunteer work was supposed to make you feel wonderful, but Macey just came home feeling guilty. She was not in a Saturday Group mood. She was in a sleep late, watch cartoons, eat stacks of waffles and do nothing mood.

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