The Boy in the Burning House

The Boy in the Burning House

4.5 2
by Tim Wynne-Jones

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An Edgar Award Winner

Two years after his father's mysterious disappearance, Jim Hawkins is coping -- barely. Underneath, he's frozen in uncertainty and grief. What did happen to his father? Is he dead or just gone? Then Jim meets Ruth Rose. Moody, provocative, she's the bad-girl stepdaughter of Father Fisher, Jim's father's childhood friend and the town

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An Edgar Award Winner

Two years after his father's mysterious disappearance, Jim Hawkins is coping -- barely. Underneath, he's frozen in uncertainty and grief. What did happen to his father? Is he dead or just gone? Then Jim meets Ruth Rose. Moody, provocative, she's the bad-girl stepdaughter of Father Fisher, Jim's father's childhood friend and the town pastor, and she shocks Jim out of his stupor when she tells him her stepfather is a murderer. "Don't you want to know who he murdered?" she asks. Jim doesn't. Ruth Rose is clearly crazy -- a sixteen-year-old misfit. Yet something about her fierce conviction pierces Jim's shell. He begins to burn with a desire for the truth, until it becomes clear that it may be more unsettling than he can bear. What is the real meaning of the strange prayers Father Fisher intones behind the door of his private sanctuary? Why does Ruth Rose suddenly disappear? And what really happened thirty years ago when a boy died in a burning house?

The Boy in the Burning House is the winner of the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery.

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Editorial Reviews

The Horn Book Starred

A gripping, fast-moving plot that offers the pure adrenaline rush of a thriller.
Publishers Weekly
Wynne-Jones (Stephen Fair) builds an action-packed thriller around the mysterious disappearance of a Canadian farmer. Although Hub Hawkins's body was never found, most members of his small community believe he committed suicide. His son, Jim, starts to suspect foul play, however, after a teenage acquaintance, "crazy" Ruth Rose, makes some startling accusations. She insists that her stepfather, Eldon Fisher, a highly respected minister, is really a murderer. In order to find out if the pastor was really responsible for his father's death, Jim must first dig into the past and solve another mystery involving a boy a childhood friend of both Hub and Eldon Fisher who died in a burning house. Beginning on an ominous note with Jim's fateful meeting with Ruby, this eerie novel grows darker with the revelation of each succeeding secret. While the roles of Father Fisher and his wild-spirited stepdaughter are somewhat over-dramatized, the protagonist's character remains authentic, and the swift-moving plot will keep the pages turning. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Jim's father disappeared without a trace two years ago. Now, as Jim is erecting a scarecrow in the back forty, he meets a mysterious girl dressed in black. She tries to convince Jim that her stepfather, the Reverend Father Fisher, killed his father. Her accusations cause Jim to start investigating events that happened almost 30 years ago when his father, Eldon Fisher, and another boy, Francis Tufts, were friends. Francis died in a burning house and was blamed for starting the fire, but did he really? In solving the crime, Jim must come to terms with the fact that his father may have played a role in the arson. Adolescents will appreciate the humor mixed with drama as Jim slowly uncovers the events. Each chapter is a cliffhanger and the reader does not know for sure who can be trusted. Jim himself doesn't know. Is the girl really crazy or telling the truth? Is the Reverend truly kind and benevolent or deceitful and cruel? By the time the reader knows who the bad guy is, it may be too late. Jim is in danger for his life. 2000, Farrar Straus and Giroux, $16.00. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer:Janet L. Rose
Jim Hawkins works hard to put the past behind him. His father's death two years ago has left him with some questions, but Jim is not sure he wants to find answers. An only child, Jim is left to fend for himself much of the time because his kind but preoccupied mother is working two jobs while trying to save the family farm. One day, Ruth Rose, a sixteen-year-old with her own set of complex problems, forces Jim to confront the mystery of his father's disappearance, which is linked to her stepfather, Pastor Fisher. In the quest for truth, Jim and Ruth Rose face danger in the external world as well as their internal struggles with loyalty, grief, and mental stability. Wynne-Jones deftly combines mystery and fast-paced adventure with the protagonists' inner conflicts. He also explores the horrors of grossly misused power, seen here in the hands of the local pastor. This novel sets the stage for a probing discussion on good and evil, although this idea is not directly addressed in the book. The struggles of emotionally isolated Jim and Ruth Rose are portrayed convincingly. Their interactions carry the book. Although the climax is overly lengthy and at times too dramatic, the book is satisfying, engaging, and provocative, and is recommended for all middle school and public libraries. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Farrar Straus Giroux, 224p, $16. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Cyndi Gueswel
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2001: "It was as if Hub Hawkins had been spirited away." Fourteen-year-old Jim's father mysteriously vanished a year ago, and he misses him terribly. He and his mother are having a hard time making a go of it financially on their rural Ontario farm, too. When Ruth Rose, the unstable 16-year-old stepdaughter of the local pastor, approaches Jim and says that she believes the pastor killed Jim's father, he thinks at first that she is crazy. Then, as he starts to look into her accusations, old hatreds and secrets from the past come to light and Jim realizes that the pastor is capable of murder; and that he is coming after Jim. This suspenseful story features intrepid teenaged protagonists and a fine sense of place. In his acknowledgements, the author explains, "This novel grew out of a short story called 'The Bermuda Triangle,' which appeared in my collection Lord of the Flies and Other Stories." A good choice for mystery lovers. KLIATT Codes: JS; Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Sunburst, 213p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-A Band-Aid of silence has protected Jim since his dad vanished two years earlier. Now a voice begins to pick away at his scab. Ruth Rose with her wild, dyed-black hair, nose ring, and history of uncontrolled anger and mental breakdowns says some things to him that he can't dismiss as sheer crazy talk. She tells him that Father Fisher killed his dad. Father Fisher was one of Dad's best friends, and he's Ruth Rose's stepfather. The pastor's voice soothes away Jim's misgivings. He is the well-respected pillar of the community, and his friendship with Jim's dad goes back to their youth and a town tragedy that bound them to secrecy. Now someone is trying to resurrect the past. Blackmail has unleashed the dangerous actions of a desperate man. Jim, slowly recovering from the trauma of his father's disappearance, isn't sure that Ruth Rose is for real. Her prodding smacks him with the pain that he's effectively pushed away. When Father Fisher's behavior becomes increasingly odd and menacing, Jim's friendship with this bad-tempered girl becomes sure. While the plot develops as a murder-mystery, the underlying suspense pivots around the terror with which Ruth Rose and her mother are forced to live. The conflict builds methodically, waiting for Father Fisher to make his final play. The strengths and weaknesses in human relationships are consistently well drawn, yet the systematic introduction of so many characters from the past breaks the flow of the plot, sometimes slowing down its momentum.-Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Old sins come home to roost in this taut, terrifying psychological thriller, set largely on an isolated Canadian farm. Fourteen-year-old Jim has gotten past more-than-half-serious suicide attempts and an episode of mutism in the wake of his beloved father's sudden disappearance. But the pain is still sharp enough to leave him vulnerable when tough, wild teenager Ruth Rose suggests a connection between that disappearance and her stepfather, popular local minister Father Fisher. She herself claims to be in danger. According to Fisher, Ruth Rose is mentally and emotionally unbalanced (skittish, violent, and subject to sudden mood swings, she certainly acts the part)-but she plants a seed in Jim that grows into suspicion, as he finds revealing family photos, learns from old newspaper accounts of a fire that claimed a boy's life, and catches hints of an ugly side to Fisher that his congregation never sees. As Ruth Rose knows and Jim discovers, Fisher makes a scary adversary: brilliant, plausible, utterly ruthless, able to play on Jim's grief like a musical instrument. As it turns out, Fisher has more than one terrible secret to hide, but the young people here are so overmatched that the tale loses some credibility when he allows himself to be caught in a conventional climactic standoff with police. That bit of contrivance aside, Wynne-Jones (Stephen Fair, 1998) weaves a strong, sensitively observed cast, plus themes of inner conflict, unlikely friendships, and the enduring power of hate, into a powerful tale that will grip readers from start to finish. (Fiction. 11-15)

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.45(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

"I want to know what happened."

She came closer, stared at Jim, and despite the medication, it seemed like she was looking right inside him.

"No, you don't," she said. "You're too afraid."

Then she started to walk away toward the woods.

He couldn't let her go just like that. Letting go was a problem he had.

"I am not afraid!" he shouted.

"You aren't ready," she shouted back.

"Ready for what?"

"You don't want to face the fact that your daddy is dead. D-E-A-D."

Jim felt like he was teetering suddenly. On the edge of a rushing stream and not sure whether to jump or go looking for a bridge. Not sure he could clear it, not sure he wouldn't drown if he fell in. Ruth Rose was on the other side of that stream and she wasn't the kind of guide he would have wished to lead him anywhere. But what was there anymore on this side of the stream?

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Leapt.

"Tell me," he said. "Please."

Tim Wynne-Jones's critically acclaimed fiction includes Some of the Kinder Planets, winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction, and Stephen Fair. He has won Canada's prestigious Governor General's Award twice. He lives in Perth, Ontario.

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