Burning City

Burning City

by Ariel Dorfman, Joaquin 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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375832048
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 05/23/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.73(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About 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.

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.

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Burning City 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
kpickett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sixteen-year-old Heller works at "Soft Tidings" a New York company that delivers news with a personal touch. He rides around the city on his bike, in preperation for the Tour de France, delivering bad news to good people. When Heller gets some bad news of his own he reconsiders his life and the people around him.The flashy cycling in this book is sure to catch a teens eye and the unusal characters and plot draw the reader in as they experience a New York summer on the back of a speeding bike.
cinf0master on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You hear a knock at the door. Moving over to open it, you call out ¿Who¿s there?¿ A soft voice on the other side answers back, ¿Soft Tidings.¿ Turning the lock you see the Rollerbladed messenger from the telegram company that prides itself on not only delivering the message, but telling you the message. Soft Tidings is the company that delivers the ¿news with a personal touch.¿16 year old Heller Highland is the best at delivering the heartbreaking messages. He bikes over to Durim Rukes¿ apartment to let Mr. Rukes know his wife and two daughters escaped from Albania, but were killed in a boating accident off the coast of Italy. When he told Salim Adasi that his girlfriend was marrying another man, Heller never expected that Salim would become his confidant. When he told Mrs. DuVois that her husband passed away, Heller never expected that she would attempt to seduce him. When he attempted to tell Mrs. Martinez her husband suffered a sudden heart attack, Heller never expected that Silvia, his long time crush, would open the door to the messenger bringing news of her father¿s demise. If Heller¿s not careful, he might be delivering a soft tiding to his own heartbreak. Improbable situations and circumstances propel the plot onward, much like Heller¿s out of control bicycling. New York City Residents will have little sympathy for the teen bike messenger who cares little for others, especially since the Dorfmans delight in having Heller inconvenience all pedestrians. Child antiscs soon wear thin, especially with Highland¿s apparent tendency to believe that somehow his pain is worse than those to whom he delivers tragic messages. As the narrative progresses, the unsatisfying emotional thread morphs into a trite and unexplained parental neglect. However, as the adults in the story flitter across the rainbow of diversity and land neatly in stock character trap, the poor emotion resonance and dull narrative make greater sense. Perhaps realizing Heller¿s motivation for biking would provide greater connection and depth with the story, but that seems highly improbable. In fact, his hero won the Tour de France only after the top three finishers were disqualified. Instead of this, try a Stotan by Chris Crutcher, Inexcusable byChris Lynch, or Sloppy first by Megan McCafferty.
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.