Saturday, June 07, 2008

Stephanie Blake's Celebrate Reading Pick: FIREGIRL by Tony Abbott

Today, we welcome Stephanie Blake as our Celebrate Reading Month Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Stephanie Blake writes middle grade novels for children, but she once worked as a cub reporter, a bridal gown model, a radio DJ, a data entry clerk, a fry cook, an office manager and a technical writer (but, not all at the same time). She has a BA in English and is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Stephanie likes sour gummy worms, dark chocolate and Starbucks lattes. When she’s not in front of her computer, which is nearly always, she can be found in the backyard with her husband and three boys in Parker, Colorado. If she wasn’t a writer, she’d be a country singer.

I grew up with Judy Blume. I mean, I grew up with her books. See, my parents never talked to me about the important stuff a growing girl should know. Embarrassing stuff like periods, B.O., leg-shaving, what boys think about, what to do about bullies, how best friendships can work, etc.

Fast forward through an awkward adolescence and the terrifying twenties! Yikes! I’m almost finished with the thrilling thirties and three boys call me “Mom!” I didn’t realize it when they were little, but boys need to know the same stuff as girls—and then some. Things like the relationship between B.O. and soap, embarrassing bodily functions, what happens when your body is out of control, painful crushes, understanding anger, how to be a good friend, etc.

And lots of those things are hard to talk about with a boy. Believe me. My teen rolls his eyes a lot lately. I don’t always want to have “the talk” with my sons. There are some things they shouldn’t hear about from their mother. Gross!

So, a couple years ago, when my son was about fourteen, I searched for realistic novels for him to read. Books that explored topics like the ones Judy Blume wrote about. I came to the conclusion that there was not enough realistic fiction for middle grade boys.

Then, I read a book that changed my mind.

The book was FIREGIRL by Tony Abbott. It’s got feelings, crushes, friendship, cool cars, comic books, superpowers, and all the stuff boys like to read about. But there is a bonus: it’s also honest and compelling. It also explores the feelings of kids who are forced to deal with something foreign: A girl whose life has changed forever because she was disfigured in an accident. You’ll need a tissue when you read it.

Here’s the synopsis for FIREGIRL.

When Jessica Feeney arrives, everyone is fascinated with her appearance. The scars are angry. Everyone is scared of her. Certainly no one wants to touch her. See Jessica is a burn victim and a temporary student in his Catholic school. Tom and his classmates don’t know what to do with her. Against all odds, Tom bonds with Jessica and it leaves an impact on his life that he never forgets.

FIREGIRL is more than a book about a friendship between unlikely people. It explores the real stuff that boys deal with when they are on the verge of puberty. Reading it makes you want to be a kinder person in general. And every boy should read it.

FIREGIRL won a 2007 Golden Kite Award, and I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Mr. Abbott at that SCBWI conference. His chapter book series, The Secrets of Droon, was already a well-known commodity at our house. I told Mr. Abbott that FIREGIRL was the book that helped me discover my talent with middle grade subjects, and he encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a published author. So I am. And my fondest dream is that he blurbs my first book someday!


Charles Gramlich said...

This sounds really interesting. I'm sort of out of the YA reading habit primarily right now but this might be worth checking out.

Congrats on an interesting review.

Melissa said...

What a wonderful plot. I love how there is a girl as a main character for a book geared for boys. I would suggest for anyone interested in adventure/fire themed books, One Foot in the Black. These sorts of amazing books are hard to come by.

writtenwyrdd said...

That is a wonderful article and now I have to go look up Firegirl to read for myself.

ChrisEldin said...

First of all, just gotta say I love country music!

This is a wonderful review! I also have two boys, and though they're younger than yours, I know exactly what you mean about finding books for boys that deal with issues the same way JB did for girls. (Soo.... are you writing it yet?)

I want this book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

cindy said...

yes, thank you for this review. i'm also trying to expand my reading within the MG and YA areas and i'll be adding this to my wishlist! grea post!!

moonrat said...

I know I've blogged about John Scieszka's book before, but now seems like a good time to write about it again... It's called GUYS WRITE FOR GUYS READ. My mom turned me onto it because she's a middle grade teacher and went to hear him speak, and he made the same really good point--there's not a lot of MG and YA out there right now that encourages boys to read (which, I think the point is, might be one of the factors in the growing discrepancy between male and female college admissions, etc).

JES said...

Stephanie, your experience rings so true to me -- no kids of my own, but I've watched my sisters struggle (and not always unsuccessfully :) with these questions in raising boys, all of them now mercifully in college or older. If I knew any moms with "young men" in FIREBIRD's target audience, I'd recommend it to them on the strength of this review.

You didn't say -- how'd you come across FB in the first place? Did someone (another mother, a librarian...) recommend it to you? You must have felt like you'd been tossed a life preserver!

Precie said...

Adding FIREGIRL to my Amazon list. Thank you!

Colorado Writer said...

I am a New Book hound. Our library has neon green stickers on the spines of new books!

When I see NEW, I scoop them up!

Firegirl was one of those...and I had to buy my own copy.

Manic Mom said...

I am sooo checking out this book!