Prolific B.C.-based author Becky Citra has produced yet another winning novel for young readers that is engaging, interesting, and full of true to life situations.
It’s been two years since a house fire left pre-teen Melissa with enduring physical and emotional scars. Her mother Sharlene has given up drinking and lousy men, but still relies too much on her daughter to help with household tasks and the care of four-year-old Cody. When Melissa is told that her summer will be spent at a remote cottage with no one for company other than Sharlene and Cody, her hopes of escaping the burden of her unhappy life by going away to art camp are dashed. Faced with a summer of boredom and mosquitos, she is relieved when she meets a local girl her age named April.
Over the weeks, it becomes increasingly clear to Melissa that April isn’t quite what she seems. When the truth about April’s apparently perfect family is revealed, Melissa learns that while her own life is difficult, things could always be worse.
While the plot is sufficiently entertaining, what makes After the Fire a special book is that Citra depicts a family that deviates from the upper middle-class norm without making its lower socio-economic status a big deal. Sharlene admits that her choices have not always been wise – hanging out with the party crowd in high school led her down a path that resulted in living hand-to-mouth while raising two kids (by different, uninvolved fathers), drinking too much, and ultimately the fire that drove a huge wedge between her and her daughter. Melissa’s responsibilities are weightier than they should be for a girl her age, but reflect the realities that many families face.
Citra imparts the details of Melissa’s life in a straightforward manner, allowing the reader to absorb her circumstances without a sense of bombardment. It’s a delicate balance, the nuances of which will likely be unnoticed by the target audience, but which nonetheless contribute to the overall quality of the book.