When one of the boys sets the barn on fire, it unleashes a chain of events that tests their friendship. They make a pact to keep the incident to themselves. But can they keep it? The secret festers inside them, especially when they discover that a neighbouring home was also set on fire, and its elderly resident found dead inside. After police use the word “murder,” the boys question their silence, and their tight bonds of friendship begin to unravel.
Summer on Fire reminded me of a Stephen King novel in terms of the depth of characterization. The three boys are well-rounded, with strengths as well as flaws, and those flaws are described in harsh detail. Arnie is an overweight misfit who is dependent on his eccentric mother. Jeff is the only sane person in a dysfunctional family that includes an abusive father and a mother whose spirit has been broken. Zach, on the other hand, has the most balanced home life, but he is plagued by his sister Sherry, who is suspicious of the boys’ involvement in the crime. The dialogue is exactly what you would expect for teenage boys, and one of the most memorable secondary characters, Ms. Halverton, has the most colourful speech patterns of all.
If you want to read a coming of age story that explores the themes of friendship, betrayal and redemption, try Summer on Fire.