After The Fire is the story of Melissa, an 11-year-old girl, who takes a months holiday with her mom and 4-year-old brother Cody to a remote lake in B.C. Melissa is worried at first that the vacation will be a boring flop. Her mother, Sharlene, is a recovering alcoholic who has mostly neglected Melissa and her brother. However, since a fire in their trailer 2 years ago, Sharlene has been working at being a better mother and provider.
During their time at the lake, Melissa meets a mysterious girl named Alice while exploring a nearby island. Alice is writing a fantasy novel and wants to experience the fantasy as she writes it. Melissa is grateful for a friend, but wary of Alice who seems to tell a lot of lies.
Lately, I have really been appreciating setting both in my own writing and in the books I read. After The Fire has a strong sense of setting and time of year. We have been experiencing a long, cold snow-covered winter and I was glad to escape to a long, hot August in British Columbia.
Melissa is a believable, unsure 11-year-old. I could relate to her inner turmoil and insecurities. I loved the layered relationships in her family -- the way she both admired and was embarrassed by her beautiful, outgoing mom.
The writing was simple, yet rich. There was some overuse of the phrase "Melissa felt sick" and Melissa blushes an awful lot in the story, however it is believable that an 11-year-old would blush this much and feel sick this often.
In conclusion, I have to say how much I enjoyed the length of the story. I am coming to love novella's more an more. I could read the entire book in a day and still fell like there was time to develop the characters, story and plot sufficiently. Maybe this just shows that I'm not the sophisticated reader I like to think I am. Or maybe it is proof that young adult readers and writers are more sophisticated than they are given credit for.