A novel of rage, confusion, and release from an extraordinary young author.
Publishers Weekly - Publishers WeeklyA pyromaniac makes for an unusual protagonist in this provocative first novel, but the plot unfolds too slowly, and the characters' actions are often unconvincing. Not only is 11th grader Cal painfully shy and filled with self-loathing, but the only thing that makes him feel better is setting bigger and bigger fires. When two popular girls, Emma and Abby, make him a target for cruelty and his only friend, Joel, gets in trouble with the drug dealers for whom Joel was selling, the tension mounts. Cal makes a deadly plan to ensure "none of you are gonna be able to hurt me anymore"; and the people who care about him, including Abby (who develops an affection for him) and a distraught detective who's on his case, must try to save him. Wooding tackles British youth culture with mixed results (for example, the club settings seem authentic, but some of the dialogue feels forced). The majority of the third-person narrative takes Cal's point of view, but occasionally slips awkwardly and abruptly into other characters' (e.g., when Emma stalks Cal at a club; when a bum sees Cal light a factory on fire; when the detective reflects on his own son). Most importantly, readers may find it hard to believe that evil Emma would really go after Cal, or that the detective would, in the end, decide to let him go. Ages 13-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's LiteratureFifteen-year-old Cal is having a hard time coping with his life. His parents leave him home alone all week while they pursue careers in London. His friend Joel has started dealing drugs, and he no longer wants to be seen with Cal at school. Worst of all is Cal's debilitating shyness, his inability to speak up for himself when the kids at school tease him. Sometimes the only thing that can comfort his feelings of hopelessness and loneliness is the hypnotic pleasure of starting a fire and watching it burn. When Abby, one of the most popular girls at school, expresses romantic interest in Cal, he isn't sure whether her feelings are genuine or if she is just playing another cruel joke on him. Confused by his feelings and unsure where to turn, he becomes increasingly obsessed by fire. Soon the fires he sets become more and more destructive, until at last they threaten to bring down Cal's entire world. Wooding's carefully plotted story, divided into chapters with titles like "Tinder," "Flame," and "Embers," effectively outlines the progression of Cal's pyromania, culminating in a suspenseful fire scene at the novel's end. Unfortunately, the book remains too silent on the causes and effects of Cal's obsession. Rather than the exclusive focus on Cal's romantic relationship with Abby as the solution to his problems, an exploration of Cal's artistic talents or a possible reconnection with his conveniently absent parents would have been welcome alternate outcomes. 2001, Scholastic Push, $6.99. Ages 12 to 16. Reviewer: Norah Piehl
KLIATTThis British import offers a vivid and stirring portrait of a boy in crisis. Cal's lifelong friend Joel serves as his only social connection both at school and home, from which Cal's parents are generally absent. When some nasty girls at school decide to break Cal's fragile spirit just for fun, his disabling shyness finally finds release in the form of pyromania. Meanwhile, Joel's petty dope dealing invites physical attack from local thugs, diverting Joel from noticing the degree of severity of Cal's depression. As events rocket along, one of the manipulating young women has a change of heart, but can't convince Cal that her stated interests in him are now genuine. Although Cal himself realistically suffers from being overwrought, the story is not, but rather is a gripping and insightful psychological adventure. The end result is neither tragedy nor didacticism, but salvation for Cal as well as for the arson investigator whose own past threatens to overwhelm him. Stylistically and psychologically acute, this title will engage both omnivorous readers and those who would rather not read. It has lots of discussion potential for both classroom and reading groups as well. KLIATT Codes: SA�Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Scholastic, Push, 196p.,
VOYAEleventh-grader Cal is a painfully shy, self-loathing teenager who finds that the only thing that makes him feel good is to set fires�the bigger the better. Cal's pyromania takes a deadly turn when he becomes the object of cruel treatment from two popular girls, Emma and Abby, and his only friend, Joel, gets in trouble with the drug dealers for whom he is working. The cluttered plot also includes a detective who is investigating Cal. North American readers should have no difficulty relating to Wooding's interesting depictions of British youth culture. Cal is certainly an unusual protagonist, but like the other characters, his actions are not always clear or convincing, and the dialogue often lacks authenticity. There are also awkward transitions in point of view, shifting abruptly from Cal's third-person narrative to the perspectives of other characters. The plot has its provocative moments, but it is slow to unfold and has some utterly preposterous moments, including the detective's decision to let Cal go in the end. Cal's story is a curious but considerably flawed first novel. VOYA CODES: 2Q 4P J S (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Push/Scholastic, 195p,
School Library Journal - School Library JournalGr 9-Up Afflicted with an almost crippling shyness, Cal, 16, feels like a misfit among his peers and is ignored by his absentee working parents. He relieves his pent-up frustrations by lighting matches. His only friend, Joel, who owes money to some drug dealers, is shutting him out, too. When he angers two popular girls, Emma and Abby, they plot to get revenge. What begins as a game for Abby changes when she begins to care for Cal. He thinks she's just messing with him and he begins to freak out and starts setting more than just matches on fire. Believing he has no options, he plans to go out in a blaze of glory by helping Joel get rid of the drug dealers. Abby and an arson investigator save him from destroying himself and others. His feelings of alienation and inadequacy are believably portrayed in this absorbing, fast-paced novel set in England; resorting to destructive acts without regard for others or the consequences is an all-too-realistic response in today's society. However, the fact that Cal is caught by a detective who lets him go scot-free because he reminds the man of his dead son is unbelievable. Readers are led to believe that the enormity of what could have happened has cured Cal of his pyromaniac tendencies. The portrayal of the club scenes with the emphasis on drinking and drugs makes this book more appropriate for older teens. -Sharon Rawlins, Piscataway Public Library, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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