<3 <3 <3 <3 <3
In his debut novel Summer on Fire, Kevin Craig successfully captures the passing of life within an Ontario town in the early 1980s and what might happen were that town to suddenly be struck by tragedy. This is not my typical type of book. I put my name in for a giveaway drawing over on Absolute Write and won. So there was no way for me to predict what I would think of it. I was very pleasantly surprised.
When a fire is accidentally started at Zach, Jeff and Arnie's hangout in Mr. Henderson's barn by a stray cigarette butt falling into a bale of hay, the boys must rush from the burning building and put space between it and them to avoid being in trouble. Afraid already because of their involvement with the destruction of the barn, they are horrified to discover that Mr. Henderson's house also burnt down -- with him in it. Surely they didn't kill him?
This book picks up from the start of the troubles that Zach, Jeff and Arnie find themselves in and does not let go. The thing that impressed me about the plot for Summer on Fire is that the build up of what was happening and the deepening consequences that accompanied it was very much like a fire itself. It mirrored the start of all the trouble and then continued to blaze brighter until it reached its conclusion.
This book was constantly moving forward. It stayed with an event as long as the event was interesting and then moved to the next thing the reader would want to know. The pacing was excellent. I had to go out and run a few errands with my family and as we drove back I was sitting in the car thinking of how much I wanted to get home so I could continue reading. I regretted not bringing the book with me.
There are no wasted people in Summer on Fire. Every character in this book has some interesting piece of history, personality, etc. to share with the reader. From Arnie's mother with her almost "manic" behavior to Jeff's struggles to be his own person, to Marty proving that he wants to be more then a miniature version of his father, every character shone in his or her own way.
I particularly liked the fact that we have interesting teens and interesting adults. The bond between Sherry and Zach and its parallel to the (surprising) bond formed between Marty and Jeff when trouble strikes was brilliant. The bond of friendship shared between Arnie and his mother when things go bad for him was touching, as was her defense of her son when the 'friends' she constantly praised ultimately failed him. The guilt that Zach felt for some of his actions and the ways that other characters made him take responsability. The behavior of Sherry that leaves us wondering if she, like Marty, is ultimately misunderstood as well. I could go on and on. In short, I'll just tell you the characterization is excellent.
The Excellent Use of Not-So-Distant History:
In 1983 I would have been one year old. Thanks to an aunt with a love of 80's video weekends, memories of my early school days from the late 1980's and a general interest and appreciation for how things can change drastically over a short period of time, though, I feel I was able to find a deep satisfaction with Craig's attention to detail in depicting the world his characters inhabited.
From the music they listened to, to the freedom the kids had to run around (aside from the fear when there might be a killer on the lose) to the actual word choices... Everything reflected that, despite the fact that the story took place less then 30 years ago, this very much felt like a very different time and place. The history and its effect on world building, character choices and behavior, family dynamics, etc. made it almost feel like it and the setting it evoked were a character in and of themselves.
This book was absolutely fantastic. I can already see that this will be making the round among family and friends. It tells a great story and for many that I know, it will likely evoke memories of a different time because of the wonderful attention to detail. I'm very glad to have had the chance to read this.
I would highly recommend this book. It's not an extremely long story, but it has a very interesting, well paced tale to tell. I am confident you won't be disappointed.