Firegirl Paperback – Jun 1 2007
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From School Library Journal
Grade 5-7–Tom, a seventh grader, tells about the arrival of Jessica, a new student who was badly burned in a fire and is attending St. Catherine's while she gets treatments at a local hospital. The students in Tom's class are afraid of her because of her appearance but little by little he develops a friendship with her that changes his life. Through realistic settings and dialogue, and believable characters, readers will be able to relate to the social dynamics of these adolescents who are trying to handle a difficult situation. The students who shy away from Jessica are at a loss as to what to say. Tom begins to look beyond her exterior and realizes that his life will not be the same after she leaves, just three weeks later. The theme of acceptance is presented in a touching story of friendship that is easy to read yet hard to forget.–Denise Moore, O'Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Gr. 5-8. Describing his encounters with Jessica Feeney, seventh-grader Tom Bender reflects, "On the outside it doesn't look like very much happened. A burned girl was in my class for a while. Once I brought her some homework. Then she was gone." The remainder of Firegirl considers the way outside appearances fail to portray the real story. Tom is overweight and unnoticed. Jessica Feeney, however, is impossible to ignore; a tragic fire has left horrible burns all over her body. The students at St. Catherine's avoid her, and they spread wild gossip about her. Tom's friend Jeff refuses to hold her hand during prayers. Yet Tom finds that from certain angles, Jessica almost looks like a regular girl, and by supporting her, however tentatively, he sacrifices everything he thought he wanted. In this poignant story, readers will recognize the insecurities of junior high and discover that even by doing small acts of kindness people stand to gain more than they lose. Nancy Kim
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story takes place over a few weeks. A few weeks into the school year, a new girl joins the class. She has moved to town for medical treatments after she had been in a fire. Tom is a bit of an outsider in class; he likes to watch and observe but does not have the confidence to step forward. He is a little over weight and has a love for cars and comics. He ends up sitting beside the new girl because at St. Catherine's they sit alphabetically. The new girl is Jessica Feeney and in a few weeks she will turn Tom's world upside down and challenge what he values.
This story will take the reader into the experience of compassion, understanding and grace. It will help us look at how others see and experience things, and will leave a lasting impression on the reader. This was one of the best books I have read in years and I will recommend it to anyone who will listen!
The day starts out as it regularly does. Morning prayers, the announcement of a class election, and the impending arrival of a new girl in their class. And then things change more than anyone could have ever imagined, because Mrs. Tracy informs her students that Jessica, the new girl, is unlike anyone they've ever met before. Jessica was burned in a fire, a terrible, horrible tragedy, and she looks different than anyone these kids have ever seen. Tom has only a short time to think about what this means before she's there, the Firegirl, hideously disfigured yet somehow still wholly alive.
What follows in the few short weeks that Jessica Feeney is in his class has a life-changing impact on Tom's life. His friend's jokes and elaborate stories they've made up for how Jessica got burned no longer seem funny. His daydreams keep slipping Courtney out and Jessica in. And during the class election, where Tom wanted to nominate Courtney so she'd know how he felt about her, he's unable to say anything at all.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book only covers a couple of weeks, and as Tom himself says right from the start, "Stuff did get a little crazy for a while, but it didn't last long, and I think it was mostly in my head anyway". And it all happened when Jessica Feeney came to his class. Until she came Tom was a very regular seventh grader. He's a little plump, obsessed over a rare car called a Cobra, and daydreams regularly about saving the life of the girl of his dreams, Courtney. Then Jessica comes to his class. Caught in a fire a couple years ago, Jessica suffers from severe burning over her entire body. Tom is just as disgusted by Jessica's appearance as everyone else in his class, but he's also completely fascinated. Slowly he gets to know her better than anyone else, and in turn incurs the wrath of his friend Jeff. By the end of the book Jessica has moved to another town and Tom is a person completely and utterly different from having known her for the brief period he did.
Okay, I summed it up poorly. It doesn't sound like a book you'd want to read, does it? What's remarkable is that it is, though. It's amazing. For example, at one point Tom and Jessica are having their first conversation and Tom starts talking about superpowers. He's always liked to daydream that he had, what he likes to call, "dumb powers". Something like an indestructible finger or legs of snow or the ability to roll uphill. The kids then have a great conversation about how many powers a person would actually need and how the best power could be one that "nobody else wants". It's a small scene and the writing in it is so beautiful and succinct that kids can read this conversation as it happens and then read between the lines as well.
Here's what Abbott could have done with this book but didn't. He could've ended it with some schmaltzy finale where beautiful Courtney starts dating Tom cause she knows he's a nice guy. He could've filled the book with cheap platitudes about looking past a person's skin and finding out who they really are. In short, he could've written a book that just reeked of didacticism or cheap emotional shots. Instead, as an author Abbott never takes the easy route out of a scene. And by saying this I do not want to be mistaken for saying that the book doesn't have any emotion. One of the last scenes in this book involves a stuffed frog and a moving van and if you don't find your breath catching in your throat when you read it then you have no soul.
By the way, I've been staring at the cover of this book for quite some time and I only just now understood that the image presented there is a scene in the book. Oh yeah. I'm quick. You know, the book's only about 145 pages. It's not very long and it's not a hard read at all. Reluctant boy readers who've grown to enjoy books through series like "The Chronicles of Droon" may well find themselves drawn into Abbott's newest subtlest tale. Maybe that's Abbott's super-power. It doesn't matter if he's writing about three kids and a staircase of rainbows or a tale of a boy and a girl at a Catholic school. Whatever he writes is infinitely readable. And that's a power more than one author would kill to get their hands on.
The day starts out regular enough. Morning prayers, the announcement of a class election, and the impending arrival of a new girl in their class. And then things change more than anyone could have ever imagined, because Mrs. Tracy informs her students that Jessica, the new girl, is unlike anyone they've ever met before. Jessica was burned in a fire, a terrible, horrible tragedy, and she looks different than anyone these kids have ever seen. Tom has only a short time to think about what this means before she's there, the Firegirl, hideously disfigured yet someone how still wholly alive.
What follows in the few short weeks that Jessica Feeney is in his class has a life-changing impact on Tom's life. His friend's jokes and elaborate stories they've made up for how Jessica got burned no longer seem funny. His daydreams keeping slipping Courtney out and Jessica in. And during the class election, where Tom wanted to nominate Courtney so she'd know how he felt about her, he's unable to say anything at all. He takes Jessica her homework during one of her many school absences, and learns the truth behind how she was burned, and he cries because she's just a kid like he himself is. Even a ride in the Cobra, which Tom has been dreaming about for years, is pushed by the wayside.
FIREGIRL is the story of being different, of change, and of acceptance. There are no real happily-ever-afters in this book. Jessica isn't miraculously healed, Tom doesn't morph into a superhero or righter of all wrongs, and the students in Mrs. Tracy's class don't all learn that you can accept people who are different. Instead, this is the story of individual strength, of the internal struggle to balance what you know is right with what is wrong. A very inspiring story, indeed.
The story is powerful but still appropriate for pre-teens.
Advantages: I felt very connected to the book. It feels like you are in the shoes of the girl and of Tom.
Disadvantages: The book left you hanging at the end and was fairly short.But other than that it is GREAT!
Don't take my word for it read it yourself!
But let's start from the beginning. Firegirl follows Tom, a regular 7th grade kid who is like many other kids - he is somewhat envious of his best friend, Jeff, and he has a crush on a girl named Courtney. Tom regularly daydreams about being a hero and saving Courtney from various dangers, ultimately resulting in a romance between the two. In the real world, he can't imagine being close to her, especially since she's the most popular girl in his class.
Then one day, Jessica, a girl who was burned horribly in a fire, enters the class, as her parents don't want her to miss too much school inbetween receiving treatments at a hospital. From that point, everything begins to change.
The other kids are repulsed by Jessica, Jeff in particular. Jeff makes nasty comments about her when she's not around, and can't stand her presence. Tom, on the other hand, sees Jessica as a human being and feels sorry for her, and begins to like her more when he (as part of a favor) visits her house. Tom ends up torn between Jeff's constant belittling of Jessica and his lack of compassion for a horrible burn victim, and his own desire to do the right thing.
The plot may be relatively simple (Tom himself even sums it up in a few sentences near the end while reflecting on the events), but what makes it really work is the characterization. I could definitely relate to Tom. While he may kind of be the "Everykid", so to speak, he's actually more of the quiet, shy kid, who comes from a stable two-parent household, but still envies the cooler kids who have more material goods than him. Tom is afraid to speak up and stick up for Jessica, but does try to redirect meanspirited conversations away from her, to mixed success.
Jeff is pretty much the kid who's cool among his peers and has all the coolest stuff everyone wants, but secretly hates his home life. And sadly, it's left its toll on him. I couldn't help but wonder if Jeff would have more compassion for others if he hadn't been bouncing between his neglectful father and his mother, who he also doesn't have that much respect for. The scene where Jeff burned a toy car and compared it to Jessica, while Tom tries desparately to change the subject, rang painfully true.
And Jessica, even with horrible backstory, is no saint. She's as imperfect as any human being, and even displays some rudeness and bluntness, as if trying to hide her pain. That only makes her more real as a person, and more likeable.
In all, Firegirl may not be a fantastic or complex story, but with its believable characters, situation and dialog, it's an excellent experience as a book. I'd recommend it.
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