Paradise on Fire

Paradise on Fire
Age Range
8+
Release Date
September 14, 2021
ISBN
978-0316493833
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From award-winning and bestselling author Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age survival tale exploring issues of race, class, and climate change

Addy is haunted by the tragic fire that killed her parents, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Now, years later, Addy’s grandmother has enrolled her in a summer wilderness program. There, Addy joins five other Black city kids—each with their own troubles—to spend a summer out west.

Deep in the forest the kids learn new (and to them) strange skills: camping, hiking, rock climbing, and how to start and safely put out campfires. Most important, they learn to depend upon each other for companionship and survival.
But then comes a devastating forest fire…

Addy is face-to-face with her destiny and haunting past. Developing her courage and resiliency against the raging fire, it’s up to Addy to lead her friends to safety. Not all are saved. But remembering her origins and grandmother’s teachings, she’s able to use street smarts, wilderness skills, and her spiritual intuition to survive.

Editor review

1 review
Compelling tale of current events
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
Addy lives in the Bronx with her grandmother, Bibi, who has moved from Nigeria to care for her after the devastating death of her parents in an apartment fire when she was four. She's still marked by the trauma of that event, and spends much of her time making maps, always knowing several possible ways out of every situation. Bibi has been understanding, but feels that Addy needs to live up to her full name, Adaugo, which means daughter of an eagle, and broaden her hoizons. Because of this, Addy finds herself flying to the Paradise region of California to take part in a program with other inner city students. She's leery of talking to others too much, but knows that the program requires her to work with the others; Jay, DeShon, Kelvin, and her cabin mate Nessa. Surprisingly, she finds herself enjoying the outdoor environment, and the owner of the camp, Leo, shows her how topographical maps work, helping her to understand her new environment so that she can be more comfortable with it. She still has moments where memories from the past haunt her, so she takes especial interest in how to properly put out camp fires, especially since California is experiencing a drought. She spends a lot of time hiking and exploring the area with Leo's dog, Ryder, and the others start to respect the feel that she has for the terrain. When a wildfire approaches an area where the students are camped with two counselors, they must try to figure out the best way to escape it, and they rely on Addy's skills to get them out, although not everyone makes it.
Good Points
As I write this, there are two big wildfires in the news (Bootleg and Dixie), but 33 large enough to be mentioned on the government fire map. (https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/). Clearly this is a major environmental issue, and it's great to see the topic covered by Jewell Parker Rhodes, who addressed Hurricane Katrina's impact in The Ninth Ward.

Paradise on Fire has several excellent and much needed themes. Topmost, certainly, is the environmental one. It's great to see Addy be introduced to the wilderness and to fall in love with it, and heart wrenching that she also has to see first hand how fragile this environment can be. Addressing the fact that many children, especially BIPOC ones from city environments, don't necessarily get out to parks or have swimming instruction, is something that I haven't seen done very much. Since I have a park and a pool directly in my back yard, this is easy for my to forget. Showing how Addy has dealt with the effects of trauma her whole life is in keeping with current trends; I had to be careful not to say she was trying to "move on". She is struggling just to move forward. Once again, Dr. Rhodes has done an excellent job of bringing together several different topics to make for a fascinating novel that would be good for high school and middle school readers.

This is a great addition to books about wild fires, such as Davis' upcoming Partly Cloudy, Henry's recent Playing with Fire, Philbrick's Wildfire, Shotz' Firefighter, Garretson's 2010 Wildfire Run, and Cooney's 1995 Flash Fire, which shows that this environmental problem has been going on for far too long.
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