21 October 2009

Fire Song

by Libby Hathorn

ABC Books. Australian, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $14.95

Set in the Blue Mountains following World War II, Fire Song is a snapshot of the time – broken families, the effect of war, intolerance towards migrants and economic hardship. Twelve-year-old Ingrid revels in having enough to eat, misses her brothers ‘sent away to work’ on a farm, wonders about Uncle Maurice killed at Tobruk and is the only one willing to befriend the new ‘Jew-girl’ at school.

But this is also a book about issues every young person faces today. It is a story about choices – the choices we make and the choice others force upon us. It is how we handle these choices that define who we are.

When Ingrid’s unstable mother asks her to commit a crime, to burn down their home, Ingrid is confused. She loves her Grandma’s old house and all the memories it contains – from Uncle Maurice’s photos to Grandma’s treasured things. She knows it is morally wrong and worries about the fire escaping to do more damage to nearby homes. Who can she turn to? Her mother says they need the money and apparently her estranged father is in financial trouble too. But more important to Ingrid, her mother says the money will enable her brothers to return.

Ultimately Ingrid must make her own decision and deal with the consequences. She cannot depend on what others tell her. Ingrid is growing up. When her mother is hospitalised with a stroke, the crisis point is reached. Isabel makes her choice.

This is an excellent read for many reasons. The historical context provides a unique look at every day life in Australia in the 1950s. Ingrid’s dilemma is universal across time and place. But perhaps most important of all – we care about Ingrid and want everything to work out right for her.

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