TITLE: After the Fire
AUTHOR: Becky Citra
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Orca Books/2010
Goodreads / Author's Website
I hadn't heard anything about this book before picking it up at a bookstore a few days ago. I was looking for a quick read, but wanted something with some depth. Going into a book blind can backfire, but I was pleasantly surprised by Becky Citra's After the Fire. The characters were all super compelling and this is just a really well paced, poignant story. Don't you just love it when things work out like that?
This book swings a little younger than I normally read. It kind of aims at the preteen crowd, eleven to fourteen I'd say, whereas I normally read older YA fair. It took awhile for me to get past that, but it really is a compelling read. Melissa's eleven years old and finishing up grade six, but she's had a tough life. Her mother is a recovering alcoholic and she's used to being let down so when her mother promises a new life, she doesn't really buy it. The family ends up spending a summer month down by the lake shore where Melissa meets Alice, a young girl who's got it all figured out, but she's super shady. She lies and takes way too many risks. Clearly something's up.
After the Fire is really about family, trust and recovery. It's about Melissa learning to trust herself and her mother as she comes into her own over the course of a summer. I really felt for Melissa even when she acted like a child. She could be petulant, but she was a child and she had been through a lot. She was already world weary, embarrassed about what people might think of her family, embarrassed by her scars at only twelve years old. Watching her learn to trust and love her mother after years of being let down was poignant even when I wanted to shake her for some of the decisions she made.
It's not just Melissa who feels like a real, fleshed out, character. All the main characters seem like they could actually exist. They all have their flaws, but their flaws are all very human. Nobody is pure evil, nobody is just batshit crazy. Their humanity is shown through their growth, but also through the mistakes they make along the way. From Sharlene, Melissa's mother, through to the eleven year old girls the characters are rooted in reality, something that I just love to see in a book. No cardboard cut outs here.
Citra manages to deal with some very heavy topics, but makes them appropriate for young audiences. Alcoholism, death, neglect are all discussed and yes, at times the book can be heartbreaking, but it never feels too dark. What I really loved about this book was the way Citra dealt with these topics. The writing was frank when it needed to be and characters acknowledged poor decisions. Graphic details were avoided, but I never felt like a subject was being shied away from. It's such a fine line, especially for a younger age group, and I'm so happy to have found a book that walks it.
After the Fire is a touching novel. The characters and situations are poignant, but are still rooted in reality. I'm so glad I came across this novel and will definitely check out some other books by Citra soon.