“You could do a lot with just being alive.”
“…there is…” Mrs. Tracy was saying quietly, “there is something we need to know about Jessica…”
From this moment on, life is never quite the same for Tom and his seventh-grade classmates. They learn that Jessica has been in a fire and was badly burned, and will be attending St. Catherine’s while getting medical treatments. Despite her horrifying appearance and the fear she evokes in him and most of the class, Tom slowly develops a tentative friendship with Jessica that changes his life.
Tony Abbott is the author of over 35 books for young readers, including the extremely popular The Secrets of Droon series. In Firegirl he has written a powerful book that will show readers that even the smallest of gestures can have a profound impact on someone’s life.
After the fire that almost burned down our living room last week I saw this book while cleaning my TBR shelf. I remember buying this one almost a month ago because it reminds me of Katniss a.k.a. “The girl on fire” and Stargirl. I decided to finally pick up the book for a short read and I never put it down until the end.
“It wasn’t much, really, the whole Jessica Feeney thing. If you look at it, nothing much happened. She was a girl who came into my class after the beginning of the year and was only there for a couple of weeks or so. 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. Then she wasn’t there anymore.”
The title suggest that this story is about Jessicca, a girl who is severly burned by fire and moved town to attend school near the hospital where she is being treated. But as I read more I found out that this isn’t about Firegirl, it is more about Tom, the narrator of the story. Tom is one of Jessica’s new classmate in her new school. He is not the popular student in school, not the smart type nor the trouble maker type. He is just an ordinary boy who goes to school to learn. Someone you’ll never notice even if you are in the same classroom unless you happen to be his seatmate or one of the few friends he got. Tom like any other students struggles with dealing with Jessica. Most of the students were cruel to her, they don’t want to talk to her, or hold her and not even look at her. As if Jessica has an infectious disease that can be aquired anytime. Then one day, Tom do something for Jessica that nobody dares to do and he eventually see Jessica behind the burns that mask her whole body.
The characters were realistic and relatable. The moment Jessica enter the classroom I feel her pain from the eyes of Tom. The way Tom describes Jessica will make you feel sorry for her but eventually admire her for her courage to live like any normal girl in spite of what she has been through.
“Jessica Feeney’s face, the first thing everyone looked at, was like a mask. I looked at her, then away, and then back at her. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the face of someone alive.”
“My neck felt thick and stiff. There was a lump in my throat and a high ringing in my ears. I remember wondering how someone looking like that could even be alive. Was she in pain right now? It seemed like she must be. As if being in that skin would make you want to scream and scream and scream until you died.”
Tom like any other students is indecisive on how to deal with Jessica. He don’t know how to react at first. He pitty her and he is curious about what happened to her. The other students reactions were also believable. They were terrified and disgusted seeing Jessica. They gossip about her, create stories about how she was burned in fire, they smack & redicule her because they don’t understand her. They simply reacted on what they see from the outside. Mrs. Tracy also struggles introducing Jessica to the class, even how much she prepare the class about Jessica’s condition the students were still shock when they first see Jessica.
The author carefully crafted his characters. They may not be the most complex characters you will ever read but they are moving and inspiring. You will feel the affection that the author put into them, from Jessica to Tom and even to Jeff who always acted like a brat. You can’t help but care and emphatize for them.
The ending is realistic and hopeful. Even if Tom doesn’t believe that he changed that much you’ll see the effect in his life after he knows Jessica and what really happened to her. He did what other doesn’t dare to do in a tough situation. His struggle to be fair and good while others were not is one of the things that makes this book compelling. As Tom battles with the pull of peer pressure you’ll feel the inner conflicts he is trying to solve.
“I wish I could say I was a better person because of Jessica, but I’m not sure. Every now and then I wonder what she would think of the things I do or don’t do. Would she get mad at me like an older sister would? Would she smile like when she said “”A vote for Tom” that time in her room?”
Firegirl is a simple yet powerful story that can change our views to other people. It is beautiful, enlightening, sad and hopeful. More than seeing people beyond their appearance this book also reminds us that we shouldn’t be looking our self-worth through acceptance from other people.
An amazing short read!