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A novel of rage, confusion, and release from an extraordinary young author.

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A novel of rage, confusion, and release from an extraordinary young author.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A 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 Literature
Fifteen-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
This 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.,
— Francisca Goldsmith
Eleventh-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,
— Ed Sullivan
School Library Journal
Gr 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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439090131
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 13 years
  • Lexile: 690L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 7.02 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    A good look at insecurity

    Let me say right off the bat that the ending, although satisfying, was totally unrealistic. Otherwise, I really loved this book. It shows how one kid just can't seem to cope with others. His insecurities about himself become so overwhelming, he can't even talk to kids his own age. He retreats into himself, and the results are disastrous. This is a good gritty novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2007

    best teen crisis book ever writen

    This book is an exelent one. It has many emotional crises and has one common solution. I think alot of teens will be able to relate with this book because he felt as though his best friend was neglecting him, also he falls in love. That is why I like it so much.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2007


    i loved this book. i dont usually get into books but i read this book in four hours. the whole idea of having a sucky life growing up and being given a second chance is amazing. i loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2004


    i love this book.when i first got it my friends were calling me weird cause they saw it had to do with fire and they know i love fire. well anyway i love how chris wooding wrote this book and how cal found love at the end. u should read this book it is really really really good, no lie.I LOVE THIS BOOK IT WAS SO GOOD I COULDNT PUT IT DOWN!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2004

    It's On Fire!

    Wow this book was so amazing. I could not put it down! I personally like books about teens and how they deasl with a teen's life's twist and turns. Very good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004


    This was one of the best books i have ever read. I could not put it donw. it only took me about 10 hours to read the whole thing. I love the way Chris Wooding captured my attention by makeing it something that my friends and my self can relate to. i would recomend this book to any teenager who isnt in the 'coolest' of crowds. it gives you something to hook on to

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2004


    Couldn't stop reading this from the moment I picked it up. Took me a grand total of three days to finish. This book strikes similarities to no other book I've ever encountered, Kerosene was one of the best I've ever read. I loved how the author portrayed Cal's, Joel's and Abby's emotions in this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2004

    Super cool

    Cool as hell with a nice style.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2004


    this book i enjoyed very much. it was a little awkward how the point of view hopped around a little but was also really cool to get other characters' input. i liked how the protagonist had a social problem like many teens today and also how he dealed with that. it was almost unconvincing how abbey actually went for cal near the end because normal drama queens of today would stick to their icey outlook on life but very neat how she helped him in the end.i liked the overplayed 'guy gets girl' ending it was sweet and hopeful but the book ended almost abruptly and, i think, should have had at least one more chapter to tie up all the loose ends. the suspense really got to me because i couldnt put it down. omg i was walking around the halls of my highshool literally reading while walking and got yelled at a few times but i didnt really care, it was so good!!! if you havent read it, READ IT! i swear its the best book youll have read in a long, long time!!;-p also, if youre sick of all those happy-go-lucky books this is the one for you! seriously, i loved it! i hope you do too!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2003

    so so so good

    Oh my god I loved this book I loved the mane character in the book... I couldn¿t put it down. It was so good that I want to read it again and again. The writing was diff to me and the point of view was too but I think that was the best part cuz this was the first time I had ever read a book like this and so the change in writing really made it stand out I love the 'push' series it¿s so awesome. And I would say to anyone who likes to read issue fiction should definitely pick up this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2003


    I loved it. It was definately a page turner for me. Wish it didn't end like that though:it shoulv'e had atleast one more chapter............anyway, i read it in 2 school days.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2002


    then kerosene is for you. Cal reminds me of a guy i once knew, which made the story even more realistic. this book is definetly worth it's 7 dollars and tax. especially for you pryomaniacs out there!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2002

    Really Exceptional

    I enjoyed this a lot. I used to be a pyro myself...its really cool the way the author describes the feelings of the main character. I definately recomend this...especially to the pyros out there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    Light it up

    This book is a definite must for anyone interested in great young adult literature. It has comedy and drama, and a twisted romance too! Plus the main character is just so cool! Couldn't ask for a better plot, a pyro in England who's trying to save his friend, yet still trying to deal with the all to complicated high school life! Got to read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2002

    Good Book.....Very Dark and into the destructive side of teenagers

    being a teen my self i thought that this was a good book...its an easy read an if you read normally Dark and destructive but really good

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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