Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Controlled Burn

Downing, Erin Soderberg. Controlled Burn
November 1st 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

 Maia's house is undergoing rennovations, and a devastating fire while she is home alone with her sister Amelia leaves her sister suffering from massive burns and the family's home destroyed. Maia feels that the fire is her fault but keeps this to herself after she is hailed as a hero for saving her sister. With Amelia in the hospital, Maia is sent from her Chicago area home to stay with her grandmother and grandfather in a very small town in Minnesota. She usually only sees her grandparents once a year during awkward visits, so Maia isn't thrilled. It's not all bad; her father has a dog, Bear, that hangs around the house, she meets a younger neighbor boy, Griffin, and her grandmother is willing to take her different places when she's not working at a local store. The grandparents don't have a lot of patience for Maia's constant anxiety, however. Her grandfather, a gruff, reticent sort, spends his days at the top of a local fire tower, where he worked for years. Even in retirement, he likes to keep watch to make sure that the area is safe. Given Maia's dealings with fire, she not thrilled, and definitely doesn't want to climb to the top of the tower. Her grandfather is perfectly happy to leave her on the ground, which gets a bit boring. Eventually, they bring Bear, and Maia manages to spend some time with Griffin working on scout badges, including a swimming one. Amelia is making very slow progress, and her parents check in with Maia frequently, but she really just wants them to ask her to come home. She eventually talks to her grandparents about her fear that she caused the fire and her general anxiety. Her grandfather even explains some of his past, and they help her to see that dwelling on the past or worrying about the future is not a productive way to spend time. This proves especially helpful in motivating Maia to go outside her comfort zone when she really needs to. 
Strengths: Well, I feel seen! While I don't have Minnesota roots, I do have some embroidered sweatshirts, and share a generational view of dealing with anxiety shared by the grandparents. Downing does an excellent job in portraying both Maia's and her grandparents' reactions to events in their lives as somewhat reasonable, but also shows that these reactions are sometimes not in their own best interests. This is such a refreshing change; usually older generations' advice or coping skills are discounted or treated as inferior, but I loved the balance, especially when everyone involved is able to heal a little bit using other methods. The Minnesota setting is fun, and Maia has a generally positive outlook, as evidenced by her willingness to work with Griffin. The details about the fire tower and quite interesting. Weaknesses: I would almost have liked to see a tiny bit more about Maia's life in Chicago so that I understood her more, but young readers will be glad that things happen right away. Starting a book with a fire is always a way to get people interested in a book. 
What I really think: Pair this one with Henry's Playing with Fire, since both include a bit about house fires and wildnerness ones, although this doesn't have the survival element of Henry's work. This had more of a feel of Bishop's Where I Used to Roam, with a problem at home that sends a child to spend the summer with relatives. An intriguing realistic fiction title with a message of resiliency and an upward emotional arc.  
Ms. Yingling

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