A novel of rage, confusion, and release from an extraordinary young author.
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Grade 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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