Friday, September 06, 2019

Wildfire: When Trees Explode

Philbrick, Rodman. Wildfire: When Trees Explode
September 3rd 2019 by The Blue Sky Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sam is at a summer camp in Maine when the camp is evacuated because of a forest fire nearby. He has run back to grab his phone charger, and the bus leaves without him! He knows that he needs to get out, and after stumbling through the woods for a bit along a logging road, he finds a cabin. There, he is able to stock his bag with some supplies, and also finds a Jeep he is able to start. It's a vintage one, and his father, who was killed in the military, had always wanted to restore one, so it seems like a hopeful sign to Sam. On his path, he finds another camper, Delphy, who also missed her evacuation. The two work together to try to find a way out of the woods. This takes a number of days, and they are fortunate to find periodic shelter in abandoned buildings. They see two men on motorcycles who are accelerating the fire and shouting "If you're from away, stay away!", which they feel is in reference to the fancy new resorts that have been built and which the men are targeting. Sam is worried that his mother will think he perished in the fire, and since she is in rehab for drug addiction started by an injury and subsequent pain medication, he is concerned that this will be devastating for her. The two children have a hand cranked radio with them, so get occasional reports on the fire from one DJ, Freddy, who is stuck in the middle of the fire as well. When the logging road ends up leading them the wrong way, things look bleak. Will Sam and Delphy be able to survive this horrible conflagration?
Strengths: I loved the foreward, which talked about how this book was underway, the big fires in California were raging, and how these have become a more frequent event. The end notes, with information about the Maine 1947 fire and tips about how to help prevent and survive forest fires, were also really informative and interesting. The story itself was particularly well paced, with the frenetic escape being tempered by discussions of difficulties that Sam and Delphy were experiencing in their lives. The inclusion of a parent dealing with drug addiction is very timely; Sam is at the camp instead of being in foster care. The survival details, and the suspense of escaping the fire in a jeep will be what sells this to students. The great cover will help as well. My students like this author's The Big Dark so much that one of my students "lost" a copy and I had to replace it! Definitely purchasing.
Weaknesses: There was one plot twist that I could see coming miles away that was a bit unlikely, and the beginning could have used a tiny bit more description of Sam's experiences at camp. I normally like books to start quickly, but this was a bit too quick. Odd complaint, I know. Students will probably like this!
What I really think: This is a great addition to titles that deal with surviving fires, like Cooney's 1994 Flash Fire, Paulsen's Escape from Fire Mountain(1995), and Garretson's Wildfire Run (2010) and Hopkinson Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco 1906 (2006) You HAVE to pair it with Michael Spradlin's recent Pararescue Jumpers series!

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