School Library Journal
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Gr 5-7-Tom, a seventh grader, tells about the arrival of Jessica, a new student who was badly burned in a fire and is attending St. Catherine's while she gets treatments at a local hospital. The students in Tom's class are afraid of her because of her appearance but little by little he develops a friendship with her that changes his life. Through realistic settings and dialogue, and believable characters, readers will be able to relate to the social dynamics of these adolescents who are trying to handle a difficult situation. The students who shy away from Jessica are at a loss as to what to say. Tom begins to look beyond her exterior and realizes that his life will not be the same after she leaves, just three weeks later. The theme of acceptance is presented in a touching story of friendship that is easy to read yet hard to forget.-Denise Moore, O'Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Abbott's (the Secrets of Droon series) stirring novel centers on Tom Bender, who describes himself as a "sweaty, fat kid" who feels invisible much of the time. ("People don't really talk to me much in school or notice me.... My mother says it's because I don't `get out there.' ") The seventh-grade narrator's only friend is Jeff, who seems angry quite often since his father moved out. Tom has a crush on Courtney, a beautiful and popular classmate, and he imagines himself as a superhero who can rescue her from danger. But it isn't Courtney who needs rescuing. Jessica, who has been badly burned in a fire, joins their class at St. Catherine's when she moves to town to undergo skin grafts at a nearby hospital. "I remember wondering how someone looking like that could even be alive," Tom says the first time he sees her. None of the students attempts to get to know Jessica. Tom, too, initially keeps his distance, though he (unlike Jeff) holds her hand during class prayer time. When he brings Jessica her homework on a day she is absent, the girl poignantly opens up to him and he, in turn, shares his secret thoughts and superhero fantasies with her. Though fleeting and fragile, Tom's connection to Jessica changes his perspective on himself, his peers and friendship, and underscores the reward of reaching out to another of getting "out there." This novel may be brief, but it leaves a big impact. Ages 8-12. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Gr. 5-8. Describing his encounters with Jessica Feeney, seventh-grader Tom Bender reflects, On the outside it doesn't look like very much happened. A burned girl was in my class for a while. Once I brought her some homework. Then she was gone. The remainder of Firegirl considers the way outside appearances fail to portray the real story. Tom is overweight and unnoticed. Jessica Feeney, however, is impossible to ignore; a tragic fire has left horrible burns all over her body. The students at St. Catherine's avoid her, and they spread wild gossip about her. Tom's friend Jeff refuses to hold her hand during prayers. Yet Tom finds that from certain angles, Jessica almost looks like a regular girl, and by supporting her, however tentatively, he sacrifices everything he thought he wanted. In this poignant story, readers will recognize the insecurities of junior high and discover that even by doing small acts of kindness people stand to gain more than they lose. --Nancy Kim Copyright 2006 Booklist