Sunday, August 28, 2011

FIREGIRL by Tony Abbott

Having a new kid in class is usually a reason for interest and excitement, but that's not the case for the students in Tom's class at St. Catherine's.  The day Jessica arrives the teacher makes an announcement before the students meet their new classmate.  Jessica will be a member of their class while she is receiving treatment at the local hospital.  Jessica has suffered disfiguring burns over much of her body.

Jessica's arrival in the classroom is quite a shock.  No one has ever seen anyone so hideously disfigured, and no one really knows how to react.  The easiest thing to do is avoid Jessica.  This seems to work for most students but not Tom.  He is especially upset by the way his friend Jeff treats Jessica.

Usually Tom goes to Jeff's house after school, but the fun they normally have is diminished by the hostile attitude Jeff has toward the unfortunate girl.  It's not like Tom wants to be her best friend, but he realizes how left out and disliked she must feel.  When the teacher asks Tom to deliver some math homework to Jessica after her recent absence, Jeff makes fun of Tom and begins leaving him out of their usual after school activities.

At just under 150 pages, FIREGIRL packs quite a punch when it comes to the true meaning of friendship.  Author Tony Abbott captures the uncomfortable feelings we often encounter when confronted by someone with an unfortunate disability.  It would be nice to think everyone would accept the person with unflinching enthusiasm; however, this is rarely the case.  Abbott presents Tom as a unique character willing to set aside his own discomfort to make Jessica feel better about her short stay in his classroom.  This is an excellent choice for middle grade students and would inspire thoughtful discussion if read aloud.

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