Saturday, November 5, 2011
Out of the Mouths of Babes
Sometimes the smallest books pack such a punch. When you least expect it, a book can really get under your skin. Tony Abbot's Firegirl had me thinking about it for a long time after I turned the final page. For such a short book, there is a lot to think about.
Tom, like most boys, just wants the prettiest girl in his class to notice him. He thinks about her all the time, but can't bring himself to talk to her. This is the most confusing thing he has had to deal with, until Jessica arrives at school, that is. Before Jessica arrives, the teacher explains they should be prepared for what she looks like. Jessica was badly burned and is coming to the school to be close to a hospital that will be conducting reconstructive surgeries. This is all the teacher tells them. Nothing more, nothing less. When Jessica arrives and they all see her burned and grafted face, the kids can't stop talking about her.
With no information about how she was burned, the rumors start flying. Kids come up with all kinds of crazy theories about her accident, but none take the time to get to know Jessica. When the teacher asks Tom to bring Jessica her homework after a few days of her being absent, his curiosity leads him to her house. What he doesn't expect is that getting to Jessica will change his life forever. Jessica will change everything Tom thought he knew about his friends and who he really is.
In the book world, 150 pages is nothing. I have read books where the first 400 pages are just background information. To fit in a purpose, an execution, and make it mean something into 150 pages is talent, pure and simple. I didn't know what to think of this book at first. Then, I couldn't stop thinking about it. What stayed with me the most was that in an effort to protect Jessica, the teachers didn't tell the kids about her accident. This was understandable of course- you wouldn't want that information out unless she told people. But the consequences, especially when you are dealing with children was that if someone doesn't know the real story, they tend to speculate. The more time that passes without the real story, the wilder the stories become. Then I began to think about this in adult terms, and it isn't all that different. In fact, isn't this the origin of most rumors- a lack of knowledge that leads to speculation?
Being an adolescent is difficult enough, but being so when you are "different" in anyway is near impossible. Sure kids live through it every day, but how much does it change them in the end? Why don't we share the whole, real truth with people? Adults and children alike succumb to speculation when curious, so why not stop the rumors with the truth. Granted, the truth can be scary at times, but it has to be better than rumors!
This is a powerful story, written in language meant for middle readers but with content that had my 30 year old adult self swimming in my own thoughts for a long time. It is a book that you could think about, write about, and talk about for hours and never truly feel satisfied. And at 150 pages, it is a manageable size that can build the self-esteem of any struggling reader while still challenging them to think, explore, and examine the world they live in.