It’s 1983, and for Zach Carson, Jeff Barsell, and Arnie Wilson, their summer vacation is off to a terrible start. First, they accidentally set fire to an old barn that they used as one of their hangouts. Then, they discover that the house on the same property was also destroyed—with the owner, Mr. Henderson, still inside. Fearing that they were responsible for Mr. Henderson’s death, the boys make a pact that they’ll never tell anyone what happened that day, no matter what. But when the police begin looking for Jeff’s awful older brother, Marty, in connection with the murder, the boys realize they need to take action or risk Marty being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
I loved the protagonists in this novel. We see the story through Zach Carson’s eyes and the turmoil he goes through after the fire and pact he makes with his friends. He feels guilty about their part in the accident, but he doesn’t want to lose his friends by turning himself (and them) in. Based on the chemistry among them, it’s obvious the trio has been friends for a long time, or, at least, Jeff and Zach have. You can easily see how the conflict and weight of their situation starts to take a toll on their friendship. Quite frankly, I think they held it together a lot better than I would have in that situation!
Loyalty is a strong theme throughout the book, and we see it in many different ways. Although Zach thinks his older sister, Sherry, is annoying, she’s there for him and really comes through when he needs her. And I think Jeff and Marty surprise us all when they band together to prove Marty’s innocence—especially after Marty and his goon buddies try to beat up Zach and Jeff. In the end, it’s their loyalty to one another that helps them figure out a solution to their situation.
The book’s setting and descriptions were excellent and not overdone. Set in a rural town, it reminded me much of the town where I grew up. Kids were free to roam around the neighborhood after dark, and it was a simpler time.
Really, I just loved everything about this novel. Summer on Fire is a great summer read, and I couldn’t put it down.
Kevin Craig is a writer, poet, and playwright living in Ontario, Canada. You can purchase copies of Summer on Fire through Chapters (CAN) or Amazon (US). Check out his website here, and follow him on Twitter, @KevinTCraig.